A fighter of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) squats next to the covered body of an alleged foreign rebel fighter in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus on September 12, 2013
A fighter of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) squats next to the covered body of an alleged foreign rebel fighter in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus on September 12, 2013 © Anwar Amro - AFP/File
A fighter of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) squats next to the covered body of an alleged foreign rebel fighter in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus on September 12, 2013
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AFP
Last updated: November 12, 2013

PLO in Damascus talks on ending refugee camp siege

The Palestine Liberation Organisation is in talks with the Syrian government about ending a Palestinian refugee camp siege that has prompted tens of thousands to flee, Palestinian officials said Tuesday.

Pro-Damascus Palestinian groups have lain siege for months to pro-rebel groups inside the Yarmuk camp in the southern outskirts of Damascus, prompting the exodus of at least 135,000 of its 170,000 residents.

"Negotiations are underway for the withdrawal of the armed men from the camp, the opening of the entrance points and the return of services," the PLO's ambassador to Damascus, Anwar Abdel Hadi told AFP.

"If they succeed and the armed men withdraw, the Syrian police will take control of the camp, as it was before the fighting, and the Syrian army will remain on the outskirts," he added.

"We're trying to reach a solution."

The fighting around the camp pits pro-Damascus Palestinian factions, such as Al-Saiqa and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, against groups like Hamas that support the Syrian rebels.

The pro-Damascus groups have pushed a few hundred metres (yards) inside the camp, but the pro-rebel groups, who are backed by Al-Qaeda loyalists, remain holed up inside.

Their position has become increasingly difficult in recent weeks, however, as advances by the Syrian army in Damascus province have threatened to cut their supply lines.

Living conditions for the camp's remaining civilian residents have become dire, as supplies of food and medicines have run out.

The PLO delegation, led by executive committee member Zakaria al-Agha, arrived from the West Bank town of Ramallah on Sunday to discuss the Palestinian proposal for ending the siege.

A member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a PLO faction which is not party to the fighting, said the proposal called for the return of the camp's resident.

"It stipulates the withdrawal of the armed men, the return of the camp's residents to their homes and the provision of support for their return to normal life," said DFLP member Rashid Kweidar, who is close to the negotiations.

The PLO ambassador said an aid convoy was "outside the camp right now," waiting to enter to deliver relief supplies.

Abu Bassel Fuad, a member of the pro-Damascus Palestine Liberation Front, told AFP the priority was "the entry of food, medicines and vaccines for children."

He said the aim was to open "humanitarian corridors to allow the transport of the wounded and the safe movement of residents."

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