A demolished building in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus on April 6, 2015 (Photo: AFP)
A demolished building in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus on April 6, 2015 (Photo: AFP)

Bethlehem, 9 Shawwal 1436/25 July 2015 (MINA) –  The United Nations removed the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp from a list of besieged areas in Syria despite not having direct access to the camp for five months, a humanitarian news group said Friday.

“The UN continues to have no direct access, but has been able, with partners, to deliver aid to three nearby suburbs. Consequently, in his latest report to the UN Security Council, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon reclassified the camp,” IRIN reported, Ma’an News Agency quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA).

The camp has been devastated since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

A resident of the camp reportedly told IRIN that people were still being denied entry and exit to Yarmouk.

The news comes shortly after the Palestinian ambassador to Syria Anwar Abd al-Hadi’s denied earlier this month that there had been talks with Syria regarding the prevention of Palestinians from traveling outside or inside Syrian lands.

The Yarmouk resident, speaking to IRIN, said that that residents had not received any support for over 50 days.

“When told that the UN no longer considered the camp under siege, he called the organization ‘liars,'” IRIN said.

The denial of aid was confirmed to IRIN by the UN’s agency for Palestinians and the leading UN body concerned with Yarmouk, UNWRA.

“Access to Yarmouk in the context of the last few years has been appalling,” UNWRA spokesperson Chris Gunness said.

“We have not managed to have the access that we need and certainly we have not been in the camp since March 28, just a few days before ISIS moved in,” he added.

IRIN cited a recent report by the UN secretary-general (UNSG) on Syria arguing: “Aid has reached those who have crossed into the neighboring areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahm, but even that assistance has been cut off since the government withdrew permission on 8 June.”

The UN defines a besieged area as one that is, “surrounded by armed actors with the sustained effect that humanitarian assistance cannot regularly enter, and civilians, the sick and wounded cannot regularly exit the area,” however critics argue the definition is not applied consistently.

“The reclassification of Yarmouk…comes as the United Nations faces separate criticism for allegedly underestimating the number of people under siege, particularly those by the Syrian regime,” IRIN said.

“The Syrian American Medical Society Foundation, a US-registered non-profit, released a report in March alleging that more than 600,000 people are under siege by government forces, more than treble the number the UN claimed at the time,” the group added.

“The report, which did not include more than 200,000 people under siege by the so-called Islamic State, identified 38 communities it said should be considered, beyond those the UN actually recognizes.”

OCHA spokesperson Amanda Pitt did not comment on exactly when Yarmouk was reclassified, but told IRIN: “For the time being, Yarmouk is not considered besieged but it remains an area of highest concern.”

“Thousands of civilians remain trapped in the area, and thousands more have been displaced to the surrounding areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Saham,” she added in her statement to IRIN.

Yarmouk residents are one portion of around 600,000 Palestinian refugees living in Syria despite the ongoing war between regime and rebel forces, as well as increasing takeover of the country by the Islamic State group (IS).

Around 18,000 remained in Yarmouk following a nearly two-year long government siege imposed after rebel forces took up positions inside the camp, making life virtually unlivable for residents.

The Yarmouk refugee camp — created in 1957 for Palestinians displaced by the establishment of Israel in 1948 — was once home to more than 160,000 people.

In June PLO member Ahmad Majdalani said that around 7,000 Palestinian refugees remain in Yarmouk, adding at the time that situation there was growing “worse and worse.”

In addition to the government siege, conditions in the camp had begun to decline in April when IS stormed the camp, reportedly taking control of nearly 80 percent of Yarmouk.

By the end of May, Palestinian groups were believed to control 40 percent of the camp, according to Palestinian official Khaled Abdel Majid.

As June came to a close, Majdalani said that some 150,000 Palestinian refugees in four camps on the outskirts of Damascus were facing severe threats due to ongoing fighting in the Syrian conflict.  (T/P010/R04)

Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)

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