Fri | Aug 18, 2017

UN says conditions 'desperate' in Damascus neighborhood

Published:Sunday | April 17, 2016 | 4:03 PM

BEIRUT -- Conditions are "desperate" inside a Palestinian refugee camp home to about 10,000 civilians in Damascus, the United Nations (UN) said Sunday, as civilian casualties mount elsewhere from indiscriminate attacks across the country, despite a nominal ceasefire.

The UN Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, said violent battles between extremists have left residents of the Yarmouk camp without food or water for more than a week.

"Civilians in Yarmouk are facing starvation and dehydration alongside the heightened risks of serious injury and death from the armed conflict," said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. The camp, a built-up neighbourhood once home to an estimated 150,000 people, has been ravaged by fighting between the Islamic State group and al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, while Government forces regularly shell it from outside. Syria's warring factions have returned to violence in recent weeks, spoiling a period of relative calm brought about by a partial ceasefire that went into effect in late February.

In the last few days, five children, including three siblings, and three others have been killed by indiscriminate shelling on government-controlled areas of Aleppo. Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels were responsible for the shelling, while air strikes killed six in the opposition-held parts of the city's old quarters. Air strikes near Jisr al-Shughour in opposition-held Idlib province killed three civilians, the Observatory reported, and pro-government forces intensified their shelling and bombing on an opposition-held pocket north of Homs, the country's third-largest city, according to the activist Local Coordination Committees network.

Government and opposition delegations have been engaged in indirect peace talks in Geneva since Wednesday as the UN looks for ways to bring an end to the country's five-year conflict, but the opposition's chief negotiator urged insurgents to strike at pro-government forces.

"Don't trust the regime and don't wait for their mercy," Mohammad Aloush wrote in a militant post on Twitter Sunday. More than 250,000 people have died in the conflict, which began as a popular uprising demanding government reforms.