‘Islamic State’ captures 90% of Yarmuk refugee camp in Syria
BEIRUT - Thousands of Palestinian civilians are trapped in Syria's Yarmuk camp, which is besieged by government forces and has been largely overrun by jihadist fighters, an opposition official said Saturday.
The camp in Damascus is now almost completely under the control of the Islamic State group (IS) and Al-Qaeda's local branch Al-Nusra Front, a monitoring group said.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA issued an urgent plea for humanitarian access to the area, saying the situation in Yarmuk was a "source of universal shame".
Jihadists from IS first attacked the camp, just seven kilometres (four miles) from central Damascus, on Wednesday.
They were initially repelled by Palestinian forces inside Yarmuk, but have since captured 90 percent of the sprawling area.
"The residents of the camp are between the devil and the deep blue sea," said Ayman Abu Hashem, who heads the Syrian opposition interim government's committee on Palestinian refugees.
"The camp is surrounded by the regime, and inside the forces of IS have almost completely taken over."
Just 18,000 of Yarmuk's residents remain in the camp, where they have suffered through regular clashes, government shelling and a regime blockade that has caused medical and food shortages.
Syrian forces have remained outside the camp, and sources said troops had set up additional checkpoints around Yarmuk after the fighting began.
An agreement last June between the government and rebels, backed by Palestinian factions, led to easing of the blockade.
But humanitarian access has remained limited and was halted completely with the jihadist advance.
On Saturday, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness described the situation in the camp as "an affront to the humanity of all of us, a source of universal shame".
"The humanitarian actors on the ground, like UNRWA, must have immediate access to bring urgent assistance to civilians," Gunness said.
He urged "moral and diplomatic leadership from the international community" to ensure the protection of civilians.
Palestinian officials in the West Bank and Gaza also called for action, and the Syrian opposition National Coalition urged a safe passage for civilians.
The body called for "urgent intervention" from the Arab League and United Nations "to force the regime to open a safe passage for the safety of civilians".