Yarmouk situation desperate, says UN

Updated 08 April 2015

Yarmouk situation desperate, says UN

LONDON: UN officials warned on Wednesday of a potential “slaughter of innocents” unless aid reached a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria where thousands of civilians are trapped up in a vicious battle.
Some 18,000 civilians, including 3,500 children, are caught in the camp outside Damascus just a few miles from President Bashar Assad’s palace. The camp largely fell under Islamic State control last week and is surrounded by the Syrian army.
The Yarmouk camp has been held by anti-Assad insurgents and besieged by government troops since the early days of the war and many have already fled. But as fighting intensified in and around the camp, the remaining refugees have been left without food, water and medical supplies prompting aid agencies to call for evacuations.
“The level of inhumanity that Yarmouk has descended to is frankly unimaginable,” Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a Skype interview from Jerusalem.
“The situation is absolutely desperate. We need urgently to have humanitarian access, which is why UNRWA is calling for all parties to exercise influence with their clients on the ground so that we can get into the camp.”
Gunness said since the fighting escalated a week ago, UNRWA aid convoys have not been able to enter the camp and the already dire situation has become more desperate with people left without water, food or medicine and the growing risk of disease.
Gunness said a few Palestinian charities had managed to get some supplies to the camp but otherwise people were cut off with the risk of disease rising daily.
“When you have public health system completely shot to pieces, when you have such terrible levels of food insecurity ... disease is going to soar,” said Gunness.
“We have tragic pictures of children and others scooping up water out of holes in the streets.”
Gunness said UNRWA had not been a regular presence in the camp for at least two years so it was impossible to estimate the number of people now ill or the death toll.
The war in Syria has killed 220,000 people and displaced millions of Syrians.
The United Nations has said it is extremely concerned about the safety and protection of Syrian and Palestinian civilians at the Yarmouk camp.
Gunness said an estimated 94 civilians, including 43 women and 20 children, managed to leave the camp on Sunday and were provided with humanitarian support so there was no reason why more could not be helped to safety.
“For me it is unconceivable that the so-called civilized world can stand and watch what is going on in Yarmouk,” he said.
“We are facing a potential slaughter of the innocents and the world cannot stand by and watch that happen.”

Two police officers killed after terror suspect blows himself up near Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo

Updated 44 min 2 sec ago

Two police officers killed after terror suspect blows himself up near Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo

  • The blast also killed the bomber and injured three other policemen
  • Egypt’s tourism industry has been struggling to recover from attacks and domestic instability

CAIRO: Two police officers were killed when a terror suspect blew himself up after he was surrounded by police near Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo on Monday.

The blast in the crowded Darb Al-Ahmar district also killed the bomber and injured three other policemen, the interior ministry said.

“As security surrounded the man and was set to arrest and control him, an explosive device in his possession went off,” the ministry said in a press statement.

The explosion took place after police chased the suspect who they believe had planted a bomb near a security staff close to a mosque in Giza on Friday, the statement said. Security officers had been able to defuse that device.

Monday’s explosion that took place near Al Azhar mosque at the heart of ancient Islamic Cairo damaged several shops.

“My shop’s front and windows were destroyed,” said Kareem Sayed Awad, a barbershop owner. “Not only that, but people have died. This is a tourist area and such incidents affect it.”

Egypt’s tourism industry has been struggling to recover from attacks and domestic instability that has hit the country in the years following a 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

In December three Vietnamese tourists and their Egyptian guide died when a homemade bomb exploded on their bus on the outskirts of Cairo, near the famed pyramids in Giza.

Authorities have been seeking to lure tourists back by touting new archaeological discoveries and bolstering security around archaeological sites and in airports.

Tourism has slowly started picking up. The official statistics agency says tourist arrivals in Egypt in 2017 reached 8.3 million, up from 5.3 million the year before.

But that figure was still far short of the record influx in 2010 when over 14 million visitors flocked to the country.

Egypt has also for years been battling an Islamist insurgency, which deepened following military’s ousting of Islamist president Muhammad Mursi in 2013.

The attacks have been mainly concentrated in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula but have also spread to the mainland.

In February 2018, security forces launched a major anti-militant operation focused on the Sinai Peninsula, aimed at wiping out a local affiliate of the Daesh group.

On Saturday, an attack on an Egyptian army checkpoint in north Sinai left 15 soldiers dead or wounded and seven of the suspected jihadist assailants killed, according to the military.

(With AFP)