Picture released by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on February 2, 2014 and taken the previous day shows residents of Syria's besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, being helped by Syrian Red Crescent workers
Picture released by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on February 2, 2014 and taken the previous day shows residents of Syria's besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, being helped by Syrian Red Crescent workers © - UNRWA/AFP/File
Picture released by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on February 2, 2014 and taken the previous day shows residents of Syria's besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, being helped by Syrian Red Crescent workers
AFP
Last updated: February 16, 2014

Most rebels have left Syria's Yarmuk, says Palestinian official

All Syrian opposition fighters in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk in southern Damascus have withdrawn, a Palestinian official told AFP on Sunday.

Anwar Abdel Hadi, an official with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said the pullout came after an agreement between the rebels and Palestinian factions in Yarmuk.

"There are no more foreign (Syrian) fighters in the camp, only the Palestinian armed men who are deployed on the outskirts of the camp to prevent non-Palestinians carrying arms from entering," he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the accord could help ease a crippling army siege imposed more than 200 days ago that has trapped thousands of civilians and sparked famine.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said more than 100 people have died of malnutrition and lack of medical aid.

"The situation has become unbearable," Abdel Rahman told AFP.

"People are hungry and the situation has worsened over the past four months, that is why this agreement was reached," he added.

Palestinian groups have regularly urged that the camp remain neutral, but instead it has become the scene of regular clashes and a tight siege.

Last month, Palestinian factions negotiated a deal under which the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, was able to begin distributing food to Yarmuk residents.

Under the operation, 1,500 civilians were also evacuated.

The aid distribution, however, was halted on February 8 following renewed fighting in the camp between opponents and supporters of the Syrian regime.

Abdel Hadi said aid could re-enter the camp once all the fighters leave.

"Humanitarian aid can resume immediately after these processes are completed and state institutions return to the camp," he said.

But he said that it was still "too early to talk about the end of the battle of Yarmuk while fighting is ongoing in the neighbouring districts of Hajar al-Aswad and Tadamon".

Yarmuk was once home to some 150,000 Palestinians, as well as Syrian residents.

But large parts of it have been destroyed by fighting and many residents have fled, with just 18,000 left behind and under a siege imposed after rebels took control of the camp.

On Saturday, UNRWA urged renewed access to Yarmuk, warning that the supplies it had delivered would now be running out.

"We have not distributed food there over a week now which is potentially life-threatening for the besieged civilians trapped by the conflict," UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said.

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