Syrian army pounds Palestinian neighborhood in Damascus

UNRWA concerned over fate of refugees in Yarmuk camp
Refugees caught in 'death camp' as Assad forces attack
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01 May, 2018

The Syrian government has struck a deal with rebel groups in southern Damascus, allowing them safe passage in exchange for the evacuation of civilians in two besieged towns, state media reported.

Government troops battled Islamic State fighters in the neighbourhood of Qadam and nearby southern areas, the Syrian Observatory for Human rights monitor said.

"Yarmouk was a refugee camp that had already been transformed into a death camp, and even in that state it has just experienced a week of really intense fighting", said Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), the agency for Palestinian refugees.

"The objective is to gradually retake segments of the area until it is all reconquered, as was the case in Eastern Ghouta", he said, referring to the last rebel stronghold near the capital that was seized by government forces last month.

At least 19 civilians have been killed and 150 injured since the campaign began, mostly women and elderly, according to Ayman Abu Hashem, a lawyer and former camp resident in touch with residents who have stayed.

The group now controls less than four percent of Syria, according to the Observatory.

It has over the past week seen a dramatic increase in violence.

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It did not say which rebel groups were included, but a rebel source said the deal was with the militant Tahrir al Sham, spearheaded by Syria's former al Qaeda offshoot, which has about 200 fighters in the camp.

"Yarmouk and its inhabitants have endured indescribable pain and suffering over years of conflict".

The Agency's Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl commended this historic contribution saying, "I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt appreciation for the strong political and financial support the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has extended to UNRWA and the 5.4 million Palestine refugees we serve".

The camp has been under a government-imposed siege since 2012.

Tanks were rolling across an open area of fields to the edge of the enclave, which includes parts of al Qadam district, al Hajar al Aswad and the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, while the whizz and crash of artillery fire, the rattle of small arms fire and deep echoing blasts could all be heard.

The deal comes after the Syrian army regained control over the neighborhoods of al-Mazniyeh, al-Qadam, al-Asali and al-Joura.

Islamic State lost most of its territory in Syria past year in the face of two rapid offensives, one by the Syrian army backed by Russian Federation and Iran, and the other by an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias backed by the United States.


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