PLO official to hold talks with Syria on Yarmuk relief

AFP , Monday 6 Apr 2015

A senior Palestinian official said Monday he was headed to Damascus for talks on helping residents inside the Yarmuk refugee camp, parts of which have been overrun by the Islamic State group.

Hundreds of families have been evacuated from the camp in a southern neighbourhood of Damascus after IS jihadists launched on attack on Wednesday.

Palestinian forces inside Yarmuk are largely surrounded by IS fighters who have captured large parts of the camp.

Ahmed Majdalani, an official with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), told AFP that he would discuss with Syrian officials "ways to offer help to our people in the Yarmuk camp".

In a statement, the PLO called for "all sides to immediately agree to protect the camp from efforts to turn it into a battlefield".

It also called for civilians to have access to relief corridors and to humanitarian and medical assistance.

Majdalani accused IS militants of "seeking to control the whole camp" and to use it "as a springboard for attacks on the Syrian capital Damascus because of its strategic location".

Since the jihadist advance began, regime forces have pounded the camp with shells and barrel bombs, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.

"We don't need to turn our people into human shields and pay the price for a fight that they have no role in," Majdalani told AFP.

Dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters meanwhile protested in Gaza on Monday to demand an end to the violence in Yarmuk.

"We demand the attackers immediately stop their killing," former Hamas justice minister Mohamed Faraj al-Ghul told protesters outside the parliament building in the Gaza Strip.

Yarmuk "must be a neutral place, far from the madness of war," he said, urging an international intervention to "stop the killing".

Yarmuk was once a thriving neighbourhood home to 160,000 Palestinian refugees and Syrians but has been caught up in the country's civil unrest which began in 2011.

It has been besieged by regime forces for more than a year and only about 18,000 residents are estimated to remain in the camp after many fled the fighting.

IS, which has seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq, has fought not only against the President Bashar al-Assad's regime but also against other rebel groups as it seeks to expand the territory under its control.

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