Residents in the embattled Yarmouk refugee camp on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus are at risk of dehydration and starvation, the UN has warned, as armed groups continue fighting for control.
UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said on Saturday that it is “greatly alarmed and concerned by the desperate humanitarian consequences being inflicted on civilians” since the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) launched an attack on the al-Nusra Front 10 days ago.
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“The fighting has been intense, and is taking place in the most densely populated areas of Yarmouk, with the use of heavy weapons, explosive devices and weapons of indiscriminate effect,” Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesman, said in a statement.
Calling for an immediate end to the hostilities, Gunness said there is a “sharp escalation of humanitarian need” in the area, warning that residents “are facing starvation and dehydration alongside the heightened risks of serious injury and death from the armed conflict”.
Yarmouk, set up as a camp for Palestinian refugees in 1957, has with time developed into a residential neighbourhood inhabited by both Palestinians and Syrians.
It had some 200,000 residents before the start of the uprising that turned into a civil war five years ago.
Of the more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees who lived in the country before the uprising, more than 50,000 have fled and another 3,200 have been killed, according to estimations by the UK-based Action Group for Palestinians in Syria.
The Syrian government and forces loyal to Assad have imposed a tight siege on Yarmouk since early 2013, restricting the entry of food, water, medicine and other humanitarian goods.
In April 2015, ISIL invaded the camp in coordination with al-Nusra and took control of an estimated 90 percent of its territory. However, ISIL subsequently pulled out most of its fighters and stationed them in nearby neighbourhoods in southern Damascus.
The Jafra Foundation, a Yarmouk-based humanitarian group, estimates that a mere 5,000 to 8,000 residents remain at the camp today.
According to the Jafra Foundation, at least 20 homes were burned down on Wednesday alone, and ISIL torched a hospital and the medical supplies inside it.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Jafra coordinator Wesam Sabaaneh said four civilians were killed as of Wednesday, including two who were beheaded by ISIL fighters.
More than 50 ISIL fighters and a dozen from al-Nusra were killed during the clashes.
Yet, UNRWA’s Gunness warned the number of deaths could be much higher now.
“Without humanitarian access to the camp, it is impossible to be precise about numbers of fatalities and injuries,” he said
Yarmouk is one of at least 18 communities besieged by government forces or armed groups across Syria. An estimated 400,000 people live in areas with no or little access to sustained humanitarian aid, according to UNICEF.
On Saturday, the UN was able to reach Darayya, a town besieged for more than three years, in order to access the urgent humanitarian needs.
Planes also dropped food packages into Kefraya and Fouaa, Shia towns in the Idlib province currently encaged by al-Nusra, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.