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Palestinians unable to return to Syria camp despite truce

June 24, 2014 9:32 P.M. (Updated: June 25, 2014 12:48 P.M.)
DAMASCUS (AFP) -- Convinced they would be able return to Yarmouk in southern Damascus after a truce and ceasefire, Palestinians went to the embattled camp's entrance Monday but their wait was in vain.

"I heard about the deal so I bought food because I thought I could go home, but (the regime forces) did not let me go because armed men still haven't left," said a 30-year-old woman clutching a bowl of eggs.

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have been laying siege to Yarmouk since last year.

Yarmouk is now devastated, and only around 40,000 people remain of the 150,000 Palestinian and Syrian people who lived at the camp before the conflict erupted in March 2011.

On Saturday evening, an agreement was struck under which rebel fighters were to vacate the camp, according to Anwar Abdel Hadi, political director of the PLO in Syria.

"The armed men will pull out of the camp, checkpoints will be dismantled and rubble removed. Repairs will be made before people are to return," said Abd al-Hadi.

But even though the guns had fallen silent on Monday, it was clear that the agreement had never taken effect a day after it was supposed to.

As children played on the grass in the middle of a square outside the camp, parents waited patiently.

"I've been waiting at the entrance of the camp for two days, and I'll come back every day until I can go home," said Umm Shaabi, a 40-year-old woman.

Nearby an elderly man, his face tired and clothes torn, moped around.

"I came to see my house, my car, my property. It's a year that I have been waiting, and I hope the agreement will succeed. I have rented a house in Damascus but I have no money to pay for it, and I cannot work."

'Similar agreements foiled'

Jumaa al-Abdullah of the pro-regime Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command blamed Hamas for the delay in implementing the agreement.

"I'm not optimistic. This brigade has not signed the agreement and in the past it has foiled a similar agreement," he explained.

But a Palestinian militant at the camp, Rami al-Sayed, expressed confidence that the agreement would hold.

It had been signed by General Dahi Yassin, the head of security for Palestinian affairs, the UN agency in charge of Palestinian refugees and Fawzi Hamid, head of the camp's civil council, as well as the commanders of the rebel factions in Yarmuk.

According to Sayed, a joint Palestinian force and the inhabitants of the camp, "Palestinian or Syrian, will be in charge of security in and around the camp. It will have arms."

In March, a truce that came into force two weeks earlier was broken, halting UNRWA's efforts to distribute humanitarian aid when nearly 200 people died, including 128 from starvation.

The Syrian army tightened its siege of Yarmouk in July 2013, preventing the entry of food and medicine for thousands of needy civilians.

In a statement on Monday, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said his organisation had received "credible information" about an agreement between the Syrian authorities and armed opposition groups in Yarmouk.

"We would welcome any durable and binding agreement that achieves a cessation of hostilities, full humanitarian access and an end to the suffering of civilians in Yarmouk and all of Syria," said Gunness.
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