Food deliveries to thousands of people living in a blockaded area in southern Damascus ground to a halt after a truce collapsed and clashes broke out between Syrian rebels and government forces, a United Nations official and activists said.
The clashes, which erupted on Sunday afternoon and lasted until Monday, were the most serious violence in weeks in the Syrian capital’s Palestinian-dominated district of Yarmouk and undermined a fragile truce struck there in early January, Reuters news agency reported.
A UN spokesman in Damascus, Chris Gunness, urged all parties to “immediately allow” the resumption of aid to the area, where malnutrition is rife.
The UN “remains deeply concerned about the desperate humanitarian situation in Yarmouk, and the fact that increasing tensions and resort to armed force have disrupted its efforts to alleviate the desperate plight of civilians,” Gunness said on Monday.
Activists estimate that more than 100 people have died of hunger or hunger-related illnesses since a blockade began almost a year ago, preventing food and medical aid from entering Yarmouk.
The suspension of food distribution in Yarmouk also underscores the difficulties of upholding a UN Security Council resolution, which called on warring parties to facilitate food and aid deliveries to needy Syrians.
Back to zero
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Commenting on the halt of aid to Yarmouk, an activist there who uses the name Abu Akram, said: “It will be like it was before. We are back to zero.”
The truce, which took months to negotiate, collapsed after rebels returned to Yarmouk on Sunday, according to activists.
The rebels had withdrawn from the area about a month ago as part of the truce, replaced by a patrol of Palestinian gunmen, who were keeping out both rebels and fighters loyal to Assad.
The rebels accused pro-Assad fighters of violating the truce, said Abu Akram. An activist group, “Palestinians of Syria” voiced similar accusations.
On Saturday, the rebels said Assad loyalists were sneaking weapons into Yarmouk under the guise of the joint patrols, delaying food distribution and arresting young men waiting for UN food parcels.
A day later, the rebels returned and clashes broke out between fighters of the Free Syrian Army, a Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front, and other groups, and soldiers and gunmen of Assad-loyal Palestinian groups on the other, Abu Akram said.
The clashes, a mix of gun battles, sniper fire and mortar shells, killed an ambulance driver, he added.
“Reconciliation efforts have, in my opinion, reached a deadlock,” said Anwar Raja, the spokesman for the pro-Assad Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command.
In total, the UN has distributed 7,708 food parcels to Yarmouk’s 18,000 registered Palestinian refugees. Activists say there are thousands more displaced Syrians also living in the district and suffering from malnutrition and food shortages.
Meanwhile, presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban said presidential elections would be held on time according to the constitution, and that Syria would not accept international experts to monitor the vote.
“We are a sovereign country and we have credibility, we don’t need monitors,” she told the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen station. Shaaban had suggested earlier that the vote might not be held because of the security situation. But on Monday, she said the situation on the ground was “improving” in light of the Syrian army’s successes on the battlefield.
President Bashar al-Assad’s term expires in mid-July and he has suggested he will run again. The vote must be between 60 and 90 days before that.