Palestinian officials visit Syria over Yarmuk camp

AFP , Tuesday 5 May 2015

Palestinian officials visited Syria for the second time in less than a month on Tuesday to discuss efforts to protect the Yarmuk refugee camp and its residents from the conflict.

A delegation led by Palestine Liberation Organisation official Zakaria al-Agha met with Syria's deputy foreign minister Faisal Muqdad and social affairs minister Kinda Shamat, local PLO official Anwar Abdel Hadi told AFP.

The talks discussed ways to "make the camp neutral so it will be kept out of the conflict in Syria," Abdel Hadi said.

The talks also covered the possibility of expelling all gunmen from the camp and "the need to supply food aid" to both those still in the camp and residents who have sought refuge outside it.

Yarmuk, in southern Damascus, was once a thriving neighbourhood home to some 160,000 residents, both Syrians and Palestinians.

But the camp has been ravaged by Syria's conflict, with a government siege and fighting between regime and rebel forces making life inside virtually unliveable for residents.

Last month, much of the camp was overrun by jihadists from the Islamic State group, though they have now been pushed back to the southwest of the Damascus district.

Palestinian factions meanwhile control the north and east part of the camp, with "intermittent clashes between the jihadists and factions," Abdel Hadi said.

The camp's population has shrunk to just 7,000 people, added Abdel Hadi, with thousands of residents who fled the IS onslaught now in shelters in the capital.

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