Syrian army pounds Palestinian camp; UN warns of dire conditions

A picture taken on April 22, 2018, shows smoke billowing from the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, south of the Syrian capital Damascus, during regime strikes targeting the Daesh group in the camp. (AFP / Rami al Sayed)
Updated 27 April 2018
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Syrian army pounds Palestinian camp; UN warns of dire conditions

AMMAN, Jordan: The Syrian army on Thursday intensified its bombardment of a besieged camp for Palestinian refugees and nearby rebel-held areas in southern Damascus, the last area near the capital outside government control.
Most civilians have long since fled the Yarmouk camp, once the largest in Syria for Palestinian refugees, but enough have stayed behind that the United Nations has called on the warring parties to spare civilians.
The Russian-backed Syrian army launched a major offensive last week to capture the south Damascus enclave that includes Yarmouk and neighboring areas, which have been held for years by rebel fighters and Daesh militants.
The Yarmouk campaign is part of a wider offensive to recapture remaining rebel areas that has shown no sign of letting up since Western countries launched air strikes on April 14 to punish the government for a suspected poison gas attack.
President Bashar Assad’s is now in by far his strongest position since the early months of the seven-year civil war.
Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner of the United Nations Works and Relief Agency which runs camps for Palestinian refugees, warned of the “catastrophic consequences of the escalation” in the camp, which had “endured indescribable pain and suffering over years of conflict.”
State media showed footage of a ground assault led by tanks on the fringes of Hajjar Al-Aswad, which adjoins the sprawling Yarmouk camp. Aerial strikes and bombardment have relentlessly pounded residential areas for days.
The army said it had made advances and killed dozens of militants. Rebels in the area say however that there has been no significant push inside Hajjar Al-Aswad or the camp, despite hundreds of strikes.
At least 19 civilians have been killed and 150 injured since the campaign began, mostly women and elderly, according to Ayman Abu Hashem, a lawyer and former camp resident in touch with residents who have stayed. The sprawling camp was part of a densely populated, impoverished squatter belt only few kilometers away from the heart of the capital.
Two sources inside the camp said around 1,500 families remain there.
Christopher Gunness, a UNRWA spokesman, said the plight of remaining civilians had worsened: “Many are sleeping in the streets, begging for medicine. There is almost no water or electricity. Their suffering is unimaginable.”
The camp has been under siege by the army since rebels captured it in 2012. Most civilians fled when Daesh militants drove out comparatively secular rebels in 2015, but thousands remained behind, many of whom have fled this week.
At least 3,500 Palestinian refugees from the camp have in the last week taken shelter in the nearby town of Yalda, according to UNRWA and a resident who confirmed the figure.
Yalda is not controlled by Daesh fighters but by rebels who have long abandoned fighting under de facto cease-fire deals with the army. The government aims to push them to leave the area for northern Syria under an evacuation deal. 


Macron and Merkel warn of ‘humanitarian risks’ in Idlib

Russian military support has helped Syrian regime troops to regain control of key cities such as Aleppo. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 August 2018
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Macron and Merkel warn of ‘humanitarian risks’ in Idlib

  • US-backed forces had repelled a raid by Daesh targeting barracks housing American and French troops in eastern Syria
  • Daesh overran large swaths of Syria and Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a “caliphate” in territory it controlled

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced concern Friday about the humanitarian situation in the opposition-held Syrian region of Idlib, which is shaping up be the country’s next big battleground.
In a telephone call the two leaders described the “humanitarian risks” in Idlib, where regime forces have stepped up their bombardments of opposition positions in recent days, as “very high,” according to the French presidency.
They also called for an “inclusive political process to allow lasting peace in the region.”
President Bashar Assad has set his sights on retaking control of the northwestern province of Idlib — the biggest area still in opposition hands after seven years of war.
Last week, regime helicopters dropped leaflets over towns in Idlib’s east, urging people to surrender.
Idlib, which sits between Syria’s Mediterranean coast and the second city Aleppo, has been a landing point for thousands of civilians and rebel fighters and their families as part of deals struck with the regime following successive regime victories.
The UN has called for talks to avert “a civilian bloodbath” in the northern province, which borders Turkey.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said US-backed forces had repelled a raid by Daesh targeting barracks housing American and French troops in eastern Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led coalition supporting them were on high alert after the raid late on Friday at the Omar oil field in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, the Britain-based war monitor said.
“The attack targeted the oil field’s housing, where US-led coalition forces and leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces are present,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Seven terrorists were killed in the attack, which ended at dawn after clashes near the barracks, he added.
Contacted by AFP, neither the US-led coalition nor the Kurdish-led SDF were immediately available for comment.
In October last year, the SDF took control of the Omar oil field, one of the largest in Syria, which according to The Syria Report economic weekly had a pre-war output of 30,000 barrels per day. “It’s the largest attack of its kind since the oil field was turned into a coalition base” following its capture by the SDF, Abdel Rahman said.
Daesh overran large swaths of Syria and Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a “caliphate” in territory it controlled.
But the terrorist group has since lost nearly all of it to multiple offensives in both countries.
In Syria, two separate campaigns — by the US-backed SDF and by the Russia-supported regime — have reduced Daesh’s presence to pockets in Deir Ezzor and in the vast desert that lies between it and the capital.