Food aid has entered the besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian capital, Damascus, for the first time in four months, a Palestinian official and Syrian state media have said.
The delivery of food comes after reports that dozens of people in southern Damascus camp have died of hunger and lack of medical care, and a UN warning that blocking aid may amount to a war crime.
“A first batch of food aid entered successfully this morning and distribution to residents has begun,” Palestine Liberation Organisation official Anwar Abdul Hadi told AFP news agency.
A first batch of food aid entered successfully this morning and distribution to residents has begun
Abdul Hadi said Syrian authorities helped facilitate the delivery, which was a trial run and “further batches will be delivered successively from tomorrow”.
He said the delivery was made possible after an agreement was reached on Friday between representatives of Palestinian factions and rebels in the camp.
“The delegation will continue holding discussions on the return of the camp’s residents and the evacuation of gunmen from it,” he said.
“A number of sick and injured persons will be evacuated from the camp tomorrow morning with help from the Syrian Red Crescent within the framework of the settlement,” Abdul Hadi added.
Syrian state media also reported the delivery, citing a second Palestinian official.
Yarmouk has been largely under the control of opposition forces for months and government troops have imposed a suffocating siege that was tightened in September.
Death from hunger
Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, told AFP that the agency had donated 200 food parcels to be delivered to the camp through an intermediary.
He was not able to confirm whether the parcels were delivered during the operation, which he described as a trial effort to get aid into the camp.
“The Syrian authorities sought UNRWA’s support,” he said.
“UNRWA responded positively by donating the requested food parcels – not directly to the Palestinian factions – but through an intermediary,” he added.
“UNRWA received assurances that the food parcels would be distributed and used in a neutral manner for humanitarian purposes.”
Food aid has not been delivered to the camp since September 2013.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday that 54 people have died in the camp since then from hunger or lack of medical care.
On Monday, UNRWA tried to send a six-truck convoy carrying food, medical supplies and polio vaccinations into Yarmouk but the mission was aborted after gunmen fired bullets near the convoy and a mortar shell exploded nearby.
On Friday, UN rights chief Navi Pillay warned that blocking aid to Yarmuk could be a war crime.
“Impeding humanitarian assistance to civilians in desperate need may amount to a war crime,” she said in a statement.