With fighting near Yarmouk intensifying, the United Nations agency concerned with the well-being of Palestinian refugees today made a strong appeal to all armed actors to cease hostilities that place civilians in acute danger and to withdraw immediately from civilian populated areas.
“Never has the hour been more desperate in the Palestine refugee camp of Yarmouk, in Damascus,” read a press release circulated by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). “We demand that all parties exercise maximum restraint and abide by their obligations under international law to protect civilians.”
UNRWA called on concerned States to urgently exercise their authority and influence in order to end the fighting in Yarmouk for the sake of civilian lives and to alleviate human suffering. Meanwhile, humanitarian access had to be increased and secure conditions established under which the agency would be able to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance and civilians could be evacuated.
The agency said that the international community, including UN bodies, should be seized of the “critical situation” without delay and should ensure that all civilians are protected in accordance with the UN charter and international law.
Failure to do so could lead to the gravest and most appalling of consequences for the more than 18,000 civilians who have been trapped in Yarmouk for over two years. Since 1 April, it has been the scene of intense fighting and it is virtually impossible for civilians to leave, as any attempt to move in the open brings high risk.
“The lives of civilians in Yarmouk have never been more profoundly threatened,” said UNRWA's press release. “Men, women and children – Syrians and Palestinians alike – are cowering in their battered homes in profound fear, desperate for security, food and water, deeply concerned by the grave perils that may yet come, as hostilities continue.”
Among the besieged residents of Yarmouk are 3,500 children, who have been reliant on UNRWA's irregular distributions of food and other assistance for over a year.
“The level of our aid has been well below the minimum required,” said UNRWA's statement, which stressed the agency's readiness to resume assistance to the civilian population as soon as hostilities cease. “Potable water is now unavailable inside Yarmouk and the meager health facilities that existed have been overrun by conflict. The situation is extremely dire and threatens to deteriorate even further.”