Amid reports of new attack on Yarmouk camp, UN agency urges Syria to halt military operations in civilian areas

Palestinian refugees living in active conflict areas in Syria such as Yarmouk, Khan Eshieh and the Dera’a surroundings, face brutal hardships. Photo: UNRWA/Taghrid Mohammed

Yarmouk, 2 May 2015 – After a reported overnight attack on Yarmouk refugee camp, the United Nations relief agency assisting Palestinians across the Middle East has called on the Syrian Government to refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas, “including airborne weapons, whose indiscriminate effects expose civilians to imminent danger and suffering.”

In a press release, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said it is increasingly alarmed about the safety of civilians in Yarmouk, amid reports overnight of armed clashes, the use of heavy weapons and air strikes.

“Civilians in the camp went through a night of extreme trauma and distress,” said the agency, calling on Syrian authorities to refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas. UNRWA said it will closely monitor reports of civilian fatalities and casualties.

“Our concerns have been heightened because these events follow an earlier night of heavy armed attacks on 27 April, which were condemned by the UN Secretary General,” said the press release, recalling UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s strong condemnation of the shelling and aerial bombardment of Yarmouk camp on 28 April despite assurances from the Syrian Government that the camp would not be attacked while civilians remained inside.

The Secretary-General, in a statement issued by his spokesperson, said that thousands of civilians in the camp were besieged by terrorist and other armed groups on the inside, and Government forces on the outside. He called on the Syrian Government to immediately end any military operation that could endanger the lives of civilians and urged “all parties to stop the violence so as to grant secure and sustained humanitarian access to civilians inside the camp.”

Echoing that call today, UNRWA said that with families facing unspeakable suffering, it was strongly appealing for respect for civilian life and an end to any actions that might further jeopardize the safety of civilians.

Since the upsurge of violence following the entry of particular armed groups into Yarmouk on 1 April, civilians have faced increased threats and trauma on an epic scale. Thousands have fled the camp and escalating violence to neighbouring areas of Damascus where UNRWA teams have been providing critical humanitarian assistance to them.

UNRWA has repeatedly expressed strong concern for the security of civilians and has demanded access to those civilians, both Palestinian refugees and displaced Syrians, who remain inside Yarmouk.

“We again demand that all armed actors protect civilians in accordance with their obligations under international law and we urge all those with influence over the relevant parties, including armed groups in the camp, to demand that they fully comply with their obligations in relation to the protection of all civilians,” declared the agency.