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Palestinian factions decry Yarmouk 'death trap'

April 4, 2015 3:21 P.M. (Updated: April 7, 2015 5:44 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Palestine Liberation Organisation and Hamas have both denounced the 'death trap' that Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus has become, following a near takeover of the camp by fundamentalist militants.

PLO Executive Committee Member Dr. Saeb Erekat issued a statement to decry "the persecution and slaughtering of Palestinian refugees... in a conflict that isn't theirs."

Ereket said: "For four years now, al-Yarmouk refugee camp continues to be the victim of the internal Syrian conflict despite the repeated reiteration by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the vast majority of the Palestinian groups of our longstanding position of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states."

IS first launched an attack on the Palestinian refugee camp Wednesday, where Syrian rebel groups have been holding positions for more than a year.

Palestinians fighters were initially able to repel the assault, but the group later counter-attacked and together with rival group al-Nusra Front seized up to 90 percent of the camp.

In his statement, Ereket said: "Reports of kidnappings, beheadings and mass killings are coming out from al-Yarmouk, which is under a brutal campaign of murder and occupation at the hands of the terrorist group of Daesh (IS) and its allies."

He also appeared to criticize Syrian government forces, who are currently besieging the camp, saying: "For over 700 days, the camp has been the victim of a draconian siege, which has resulted in the death by starvation of at least 200 Palestinians.

"The PLO, through its envoys, has been trying for years to lift the siege."

The camp has been badly hit by fighting in Syria, with its population currently standing at less than 18,000, down from more than 160,000 before the war began.

'Time running out'

Ereket concluded: "The priority must be to save the Palestinian refugees in the camp by creating a safe passage for them out of the death trap that al-Yarmouk has become. We call upon the United Nations and other involved organizations, including the ICRC, as well as the Syrian government to take all necessary measures to immediately evacuate civilians."

He added: "Time is quickly running out."

Al-Quds newspaper earlier reported that the head of the Palestinian National Council, Salim Zanoun, decried the fact that Palestinians had been plunged into a conflict that had nothing to do with the Palestinian people or their cause.

Hamas, meanwhile, released a number of messages on their Twitter feed denouncing the violence.

They tweeted: "We urge all parties to spare the Palestinian camps," adding that "Palestinians in Syria are refugees on a temporary stay."

The statements from Palestinian political leaders' came shorty after the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA expressed concern about the situation, saying it had been unable to deliver aid to the camp since Wednesday.

IS reportedly captured a square where residents of Yarmouk gather to receive aid handouts.

On Saturday, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness described the situation in the camp as "an affront to the humanity of all of us, a source of universal shame."

"The humanitarian actors on the ground, like UNRWA, must have immediate access to bring urgent assistance to civilians," Gunness said.

He urged "moral and diplomatic leadership from the international community" to ensure the protection of civilians.

AFP contributed to this report.
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