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PLO to coordinate Yarmouk relief with Syrian government

April 7, 2015 5:23 P.M. (Updated: April 9, 2015 5:03 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The PLO will coordinate efforts with the Syrian government to secure safe exits from Yarmouk for Palestinians inside the beleaguered refugee camp, a senior Palestinian official said Tuesday.

PLO Executive Committee member Zakariya al-Agha told reporters in Gaza City that the Syrian and Palestinian Red Crescents, as well the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, will work together to provide refuge for those who have already left the camp.

Al-Agha, who also heads the PLO's refugees affairs department, said his department is in close contact with Syrian government officials.

He added that there are PLO fighters, in addition to fighters from other Palestinian factions, working inside the refugee camp to defend its residents and institutions.

President Mahmoud Abbas is speaking with the UN, the Arab League, and member states of the World Muslim Congress to end "crimes against the refugees, secure the entrance of aid, and bring back peace to the refugee camp," he added.

UN demands aid access

The UN Security Council has demanded humanitarian access to Yarmouk refugee camp as residents described fleeing in terror after the arrival of militants from the Islamic State group.

The advance by the extremists into the battered neighborhood of south Damascus has alarmed the international community and Palestinian officials, with a delegation from the West Bank heading to Syria to discuss the situation.

The Security Council expressed deep concern about the situation on Monday and called "for the protection of civilians in the camp for ensuring a humanitarian access to the area including by providing life-saving assistance."

It also stood ready to consider "further measures to provide necessary assistance," without providing details.

The call came after the council held a closed-door meeting on the crisis and heard from the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees about the plight of the camp's 18,000 or so remaining residents.

UNRWA chief Pierre Krahenbuhl described the situation as "more desperate than ever."

He urged countries with influence in Syria to act "for civilian lives to be spared and for humanitarian access to be given."

"What civilians in Yarmouk are most concerned about right now is bare survival," he said.

IS militants began an assault on Yarmouk last Wednesday, and were initially repelled by Palestinian fighters but have since seized large swathes of the district.

Nearly 40 people have been killed in the fighting, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Britain-based group said IS forces were present in the south, west and east of the camp, with Palestinian fighters largely confined to the north.

Syrian government forces have dropped barrel bombs on IS positions in the camp, it added.

The IS attack is just the latest blow for Yarmouk, which was once a thriving, working-class residential district of the capital, home to some 160,000 people -- Syrians and Palestinians.

The camp, the largest of its kind in Syria, has suffered repeated bombardment and has been under a government siege for more than 18 months.

The embargo was so tight at one point that there were reports of deaths from shortages of food and medicines. Residents said they survived on wild herbs and plants.

An agreement last year allowed a slight easing of the siege, but humanitarian access has remained limited.

AFP contributed to this report.
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