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Syrian troops, tanks gather outside Palestinian camp in Damascus

Dec. 17, 2012 3:46 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 18, 2012 9:40 A.M.)
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian troops and tanks on Monday gathered outside the Palestinian Yarmouk camp in Damascus, scene of clashes between Palestinians loyal to President Bashar Assad and rebels backed by Palestinian fighters.

Clashes inside the camp continued on Monday with thousands of people fleeing to nearby suburbs. Syrian jets bombed the camp on Sunday killing at least 25 people.

An activist in the camp said airstrikes destroyed al-Jurmoq and al-Mansura schools on Monday. He told Ma'an shops had closed amid fears of a food crisis and most areas had no electricity because of the bombing.

Yarmouk, in southern Damascus, is part of an arc sweeping from the east to southwest of the Syrian capital where Assad's forces have been trying for several weeks to push back rebels from the gates of his power base.

PLO official in Syria Anwar Abdul-Hadi said Monday that over half the population of the camp had fled, seeking refuge in nearby schools, mosques and United Nations buildings.

Abdul-Hadi told Ma'an that President Mahmoud Abbas had been updated about the latest developments and that the Syrian regime had pledged not to attack Yarmouk again.

Heavy fighting broke out 13 days ago between Syrian rebels, joined by Palestinian brigade the Liwaa al-Asifah, and fighters from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, a Damascus-based Palestinian faction that backs Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The fighting intensified on Saturday with rebels gaining ground inside the camp, forcing Ahmed Jibril, a veteran PFLP-GC leader, to leave the capital with his son.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi on Monday urged all sides in the conflict to protect the Palestinians and to keep them out of the fighting.

Spokesman of the Hamas government in Gaza Taher al-Nunu denounced the attack on Yarmouk in a statement Monday, while PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo condemned the Syrian regime's "criminal murder and destruction," calling on the international community to intervene.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday called the attack "a matter of grave concern," while French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called the attack "scandalous."

Syria hosts more that 500,000 Palestinian refugees, most of them living in Yarmouk. Assad's government and Syrian rebels have enlisted and armed Palestinian refugees during the 21-month uprising, which has escalated into a civil war.

In November, the PLO said that around 600 Palestinians had been killed in the Syrian conflict.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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