UNRWA chief heads to Syria on 'urgent' Yarmuk aid mission

AFP , Saturday 11 Apr 2015

The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees is to start an "urgent mission" to Syria on Saturday to discuss aid to civilians in a camp stormed by jihadists, his organisation said.

Pierre Krahenbuhl, who heads the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, is to discuss the situation in the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk on the outskirts of the Syrian capital and meet with displaced refugees.

The visit is "prompted by UNRWA's deepening concerns for the safety and protection of some 18,000 Palestinian and Syrian civilians, including 3,500 children" remaining in the Yarmuk camp, the agency said in a statement.

"Yarmuk remains under the control of armed groups, and civilian lives continue to be threatened by the effects of the armed conflict in the area," it said.

On April 1, the Islamic State jihadist group launched an assault on Yarmuk, Syria's largest refugee camp that lies seven kilometres (yards) south of Damascus.

Armed Palestinian factions have fought back and Syria's air force has struck IS positions in the camp.

Syria's regime said a military operation would be necessary to expel IS from the camp.

The statement was initially supported by Palestinian factions in Syria, but later rejected by the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Krahenbuhl, who will meet displaced refugees on Sunday in a school near the camp, will discuss "with the government of Syria... peaceful approaches to addressing the humanitarian consequences of the situation in Yarmuk."

He will also meet with deputy special envoy Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, who was sent by UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday to Damascus.

Since 2012, Yarmuk has seen ongoing clashes between regime forces and Syrian rebels, with Palestinian factions divided and fighting on both sides.

The sprawling district, once home to 160,000 Palestinians as well as Syrians, has endured a suffocating army siege since 2013.

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