Damascus: Yarmouk Starves as Relief Convoys Attacked

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A fighter of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command squats next to the covered body of an alleged foreign rebel fighter in the Yarmouk refugee camp in the Syrian capital Damascus on September 12, 2013, following fighting against rebel forces who control 75 percent of the camp. (Photo: AFP - Anwar Amro)

By: Laith al-Khatib

Published Monday, January 13, 2014

In Damascus’ Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, the specter of death from hunger continues to threaten lives. Today, the Palestine Liberation Organization will try again to bring in a convoy of humanitarian aid to the camp, after five previous attempts were foiled by militants.

Damascus Countryside – Starvation deaths in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus have increased dramatically. As of January 1, 10 people had died. The number rose to 15 over the next 10 days and jumped to 44 in the past two. The latest victim was baby Israa al-Masry.

Militants inside the camp have blocked the efforts of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to bring food to the besieged residents. Today, the PLO will try to break the siege with six trucks of relief aid, following negotiations between Palestinian factions and camp militants.

One negotiator expressed concern that “the aid might not make it to its destination at the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools because militants might confiscate it.” He added, if this aid “crosses a distance of five kilometers on the street controlled by the militants, it will be distributed by UNRWA staff.”

Palestinian ambassador to Syria, Anwar Abdul-Hadi, told Al-Akhbar, “We will try for the sixth time to deliver aid to the people under siege. In previous attempts, militants created problems and prevented the trucks from entering. Two days ago, militants prevented us from pulling the wounded ... out of the camp.”

On another note, a delegation from the PLO’s executive committee visited the Syrian authorities in an attempt to find a solution to the siege of Yarmouk. One delegation member said, “The Syrian government asked that foreign fighters be taken out of the camp in order to lift the siege.” The Syrian authorities told the Palestinian delegation, “If the militants want to fight us, let them do so outside the camp.”

The parties are considering a new initiative, similar to the last initiative, which calls for the ouster of foreign fighters from Yarmouk; returning the Syrian police to their positions inside the camp; and coming to a settlement with anti-regime Palestinian fighters.

A field commander from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) told Al-Akhbar, “The initiative came as a result of the worsening humanitarian situation in the camp. The number of deaths is expected to exceed a hundred in the coming days if food and medicine are not delivered.”

Previous attempts to bring relief envoys into the camp were subjected to heavy gunfire and mortar shells. The last such attempt took place on January 8, with the convoy unable to go beyond the area controlled by the state.

An activist who participated in the convoy told Al-Akhbar, “Opposition fighters prevented the convoy from entering. They blocked an attempt to reach comprehensive reconciliation in the camp at the last meeting on January 3.”

He believes militants block food and medicine in order to hold the Syrian government responsible for the starvation, and accuse Palestinian factions of failing to help the camp residents. “After refusing to allow aid to enter Yarmouk, they spread rumors that the militants fed the starving people in the Palestine Hospital,” he said.

However, the opposition accuses security checkpoints and PFLP-GC of “fabricating security incidents that prevent the convoy from entering the camp.” Abu Dayeh, a Palestinian opponent of the regime, told Al-Akhbarr, “The security checkpoints adjacent to al-Regi Square and Palestine Street create, with the help of members of the PFLP-GC, tension in the days preceding the arrival of the relief convoys, and terrorize residents and prevent them from approaching the convoys by carrying out fake clashes right before they arrive.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.



I think you need to be clearer about the competing claims in the earlier part of the article. For instance, if in fact the firing on the Jan 8 convoy came, not from the PFLP-GC, but from the Jihadi organisations controlling the interior of the camp, I think you need to say so. There are two claims in the article that need to be clarified. Firstly, following the claim by 'one negotiator' that if this aid “crosses a distance of 5 km on the street controlled by the militants, it will be distributed by UNRWA staff,” you need to make it clear that the PFLP-GC are blockading the camp on behalf of the Syrian government and army because they do not believe that UNRWA will be able to distribute the aid according to its own impartial criteria, but that the aid will be commandeered by the Jihadi groups that control the interior of the camp and distributed systematically to their own followers and not to anyone else, if there is anyone else. Secondly, immediately after quoting Palestinian ambassador to Syria Anwar Abd'ul-Hadi's statement, "In previous attempts (to deliver aid), militants created problems and prevented the trucks from entering (and) two days ago, militants prevented us from pulling the wounded out of the camp,” you need to make it explicit that the 'militants' referred to are, again, the Jihadi groups controlling the interior of the camp, and not the PFLP-GC forces operating the cordon around its perimeter. These precisions can be deduced from what you say in the final three paragraphs, but you need to make your own judgment as to the truths of the situation explicit much earlier on.

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