The Palestinian refugee camp of Khan Eshieh in the Damascas area has been hit by deadly air strikes amid an escalation of fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels, residents and a local aid group have told Al Jazeera.
Early on Thursday, at least six residents, including a seven-year-old child, were killed when warplanes dropped bombs on civilian homes in the camp, said camp resident Abo Muslem.
“It was the second round of air strikes that night,” he told Al Jazeera. “Russian jets had hit two houses on the east side of the camp earlier. They returned about five hours later and targeted a three-storey building.”
The Jafra Foundation, a group working with Palestinian refugees in Syria, said in a statement that “military actions and aerial bombardment continued last week on the outskirts of the camp”.
UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, confirmed the increase in bloodshed in Khan Eshieh.
“The regime and the Russians have been targeting our area a lot over the past three days. There is no military presence in the camp … we have no idea why they’re targeting us,” added Abo Muslem.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said that Khan Eshieh “is located in a volatile area in the rural area of southern Damascus, where spikes in violence have caused the death of at least nine Palestine refugees in recent weeks”.
‘Running out of hope’
Khan Eshieh is one of several Palestinian refugee camps across the country. Of the 560,000 Palestinian refugees who were registered in Syria before the conflict, UNRWA estimates that 450,000 remain.
“The regime has prevented the entry of medicine into the camp for more than two months now,” said Abo Muslem. “You enter into any pharmacy and you won’t even find the most basic medicine. The shelves are empty.”
Home to some 20,000 registered Palestinian refugees before the civil war, the camp’s population has dropped to about 14,000 people and now includes many displaced Syrians from across the Damascus suburbs.
The Syrian conflict started with largely unarmed protests against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011, but it quickly turned into a full-on civil war between government forces and rebels.
Fighting has also taken place between opposing rebel factions and hardline armed groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
More than 270,000 people have been killed throughout the five-year conflict, according to the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
‘People are scared’
Salim Salamah of the Palestinian League for Human Rights – Syria criticised the international community’s inability to protect Palestinian refugees in Syria. “What is happening in Khan Eshieh happened in other camps and is another example of how easy it is to violate the rights of civilians,” he told Al Jazeera.
“People in Khan Eshieh have no involvement in military operations. Yet Russia, a permanent member of UN Security Council, is still bombing this camp, which is supposed to be under the protection of UNRWA, a UN agency.”
Abo Muslem said that there is no military presence in the camp. “Yes, Ahrar al-Sham is fighting in the fields surrounding us, but they have no presence here. There are only civilians here,” he said, referring to an armed opposition group.
But the increase in air strikes has sparked a growing fear among the camp’s residents. “People are scared. The Russian air strikes have changed everything. They’ve caused more destruction in eight months than the regime caused in four years,” said Abo Muslem.
The UK-based Action Group for Palestinians in Syria has documented the death of at least 3,274 Palestinians throughout the conflict. At least 1,083 Palestinians are locked up in Syrian government prisons and another 286 missing.
Palestinian camps across Syria have been dragged into the ongoing civil war.
The Yarmouk camp, in the Damascas area, once home to 200,000 Palestinian refugees, has been placed under long periods of government-imposed siege since 2012. With the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group and the al-Nusra Front – the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda – vying for control of the camp, the population is believed to have dropped to between 5,000 and 8,000 civilians.
Elsewhere, the Deraa camp in southern Syria is reportedly 60 percent destroyed, while the Sbeineh camp near Damascus is 80 percent demolished, according to Jafra.
The Palestinian League’s Salamah said: “The only conclusion I can draw from this is that their endgame is the total destruction of all Palestinian camps. It’s outrageous, extremely sad, and we are running out of both words and hope.”