UNRWA urges humanitarian access to district devastated by government siege as ISIL battles Palestinian armed faction.
About 2,000 residents of a Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian capital have fled amid shelling by government forces and clashes between Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Palestinian fighters, activists and state TV have said.
Hatem al-Dimashqi, an activist based in an area just south of Damascus, said many residents started fleeing the Yarmouk camp after midnight on Sunday as the fighting let up. The district – referred to as a camp as it was decades ago set up to house Palestinian refugees – has been subjected to intense shelling and air strikes by the government.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and al-Dimashqi said those who fled the camp had reached the southern Damascus suburbs of Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahem, which are under rebel control. They are now sheltering in schools or abandoned homes.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, said in Ramallah that residents of Yarmouk had been victimised by Syria’s civil war.
The Syrian government forces and different rebel factions were clashing and “we pay the price,” he said.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Damascus has formed a “cell to handle this tragedy and they are trying to work it out with the least losses,” Abbas said. “We are in touch with our brothers there to find a way out and protect our people.”
ISIL stormed the camp on Wednesday, launching an offensive against a Palestinian group opposed to the Syrian government.
Palestinian officials and Syrian activists said ISIL was working with rivals from the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front. The two groups have fought bloody battles against each other in other parts of Syria, but appear to be cooperating in the attack on Yarmouk, which was set up in 1957.
However, the Nusra Front said in a statement on Sunday that it is not participating in the battles and was taking a neutral stance. The statement added that Nusra opened its offices and welcomed all those who do not want to take part in the fighting and gave them refuge.
The Observatory, which monitors the Syrian conflict through a network of local activists, said the fighting had killed 26 people since the clashes first broke out.
Anwar Raja, the spokesman for the Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, which supports embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said several pro-Assad factions had united to defend the camp.
Raja said more than 100 civilians have been either killed or kidnapped by ISIL fighters who he said now control about half the camp, adding that the priority was to evacuate civilians.
According to the United Nations, about 18,000 civilians, including a large number of children, were trapped in Yarmouk until Sunday.
The camp has been under government siege for nearly two years, leading to starvation and illnesses triggered by lack of medical aid.
The camp has also witnessed several rounds of deadly fighting between government forces and armed rebels.