Call for Yarmouk Truce as Aid Crisis Grows in Jordan

Jan 9 2013 / 2:58 am

Palestinian factions in Damascus supporting the Syrian regime have called for a ceasefire after a month of fighting between government troops and rebels in the Yarmouk district in the south of the capital.

In a statement on Tuesday, representatives of Damascus-based Palestinian groups called for a halt to all military operations in order to enable medical teams and food supply trucks to aid civilians affected by the conflict in Yarmouk.

On Tuesday, activists said at least four people were killed in government bombardments and sniper fire in Yarmouk, as clashes raged on its outskirts.

Yarmouk has been home to Palestinian refugees for decades. Many Syrians also live in the area. Since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011, residents have been divided with some taking up arms against the regime and some fighting to support it.

The Palestinian groups urged rebels to withdraw from the area “in order not to bear the responsibility of the continuing displacement of residents.

“We call on armed men to withdraw from Yarmouk so the people of the camp can have a roof over their heads again, and put a stop to political strife in Yarmouk,” said a statement issued at a press conference by factions allied to the Syrian regime.

Palestinians in Syria must remain “neutral” in the country’s spiraling crisis, said the statement, which was signed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Nidal Front.

Signatories called on Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization to launch an international campaign to enable the return of most of the 150,000 Palestinian residents of Yarmouk, who fled when major violence broke out there in mid-December.

In late December, a PLO official said more than 700 Palestinians have been killed in Syria’s violence.

An anti-regime activist in Yarmouk told Al Jazeera that Tuesday’s announcement had made no difference on the ground, as clashes and shelling by government forces continued. He said that a truce deal between rebels and pro-Assad factions two weeks ago had temporarily calmed the situation and allowed some families to return, but the ceasefire broke down shortly after it was agreed.

Aid Crisis

Syrian refugees frustrated over poor living conditions at a camp in neighboring Jordan started a riot as humanitarian workers were distributing aid.

Scuffles broke out at the Zaatrai camp early on Tuesday morning after heavy rains and cold weather worsened the plight of refugees there.

“The incident started when a large number of refugees were queuing as usual for food handouts,” Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from Jordan, said.

“They were really frustrated and borderline aggressive because it has been very cold and has been raining nonstop for the last 24 hours.”

The United Nations said on Tuesday it is unable to provide aid to one million Syrians in need due to government restrictions on aid distribution and poor security in the war-torn country.

The UN’s World Food Programme is handing out food rations to about 1.5 million people in Syria each month, still short of the 2.5 million deemed to be in need of aid, Elisabeth Byrs, the WFP spokeswoman, said.

The WFP is unable to step up assistance as only a handful of aid agencies are authorized to distribute relief goods in Syria.

“Our main partner, the [Syrian Arab] Red Crescent, is overstretched and has no more capacity to expand further,” Byrs told a news briefing in Geneva.

The UN last month appealed for $1.5b to help save the millions of Syrians suffering from what it called a dramatically deteriorating humanitarian situation.

Four million people in the country need urgent humanitarian aid, including an estimated two million displaced from their homes mainly by government bombardments of opposition-held areas.

(Al Jazeera and Agencies – www.aljazeera.com)

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