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NGO: Five Palestinians die of hunger in besieged Yarmouk

Dec. 27, 2013 10:35 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 28, 2013 4:33 P.M.)
BEIRUT (AFP) -- Five people, including an elderly man, a woman and a disabled man, have died of hunger in a besieged Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus, a monitoring group said Friday.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's troops have sealed off several rebel-held areas ringing the capital, some for more than a year, prompting fears of a worsening humanitarian disaster as citizens run low on food and fuel.

"Five people died, including an elderly man, a disabled man and a woman, as a result of malnutrition and the lack of the necessary treatment," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group relying on sources inside the war-torn country.

Their deaths were "the result of the siege imposed by regime troops" on the Yarmouk refugee camp, it said.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees and several rights groups have called on the Syrian regime to lift the siege of Yarmouk, and on both troops and rebels to allow aid into the camp.

Last week, UNRWA chief Filippo Grandi warned: "The situation has progressively deteriorated: 20,000 remaining Palestinians have been trapped inside Yarmouk. ... If this situation is not addressed urgently, it may be too late to save the lives of thousands of people including children."

The Syrian army has besieged several rebel areas, including Moadamiyet al-Sham southwest of the capital, where several people have reportedly starved to death.

Extreme shortages of food led rebels in the town to announce a truce with the regime starting Wednesday, on condition that food was allowed in, but the ceasefire was broken a day later.

On Friday, the local opposition council said that while "no food aid has yet entered the town. ... the parties to the truce remain committed to the agreement."

It also said in a statement that relatives of people trapped in the siege were meeting in the Dama Rose hotel in the heart of the capital with regime representatives.

"No details have yet been given for the delay in the arrival of humanitarian supplies," the council said.

After rebels seized control of Yarmouk in December 2012, the camp became embroiled in the armed fighting taking place across Syria and came under heavy regime assault. Regime forces eventually encircled the camp and in July imposed a siege on the camp, leading to a rapid deterioration of living conditions.

Fatah leader Abbas Zaki told Ma'an in mid-October that Yarmouk's population of 250,000 had dwindled to 18,000 after two and a half years of conflict in Syria.

Syria's nearly three-year civil war has claimed an estimated 126,000 lives and displaced millions of people.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report
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