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UNRWA calls for $30m in aid for Yarmouk crisis

April 17, 2015 10:18 P.M. (Updated: April 20, 2015 6:36 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an ) -- The UN agency for Palestinian refugees has called for "an immediate injection" of $30 million to provide aid for residents of the beleaguered Yarmouk refugee camp, where fighting between Palestinian factions and the Islamic State group continues.

In a statement released Friday, UNRWA claimed to have "significantly expanded" their aid response in areas neighboring Yarmouk where residents of the Palestinian refugee camp have sought shelter.

However, they said they would not be able to respond fully to the crisis without "a major increase in funding."

The agency said that on Thursday they were able to hold a fourth distribution mission to Yalda, "an area the Agency previously had not had presence, but which now temporarily hosts hundreds of families displaced from Yarmouk."

The statement said that they expect to expand their operation to the neighboring areas of Babila and Beit Saham in coming days.

However, UNRWA has struggled to provide aid relief to approximately 18,000 civilians, including 3,500 children, still trapped inside the camp, where fighting is ongoing.

On Tuesday, Palestinian officials and a Yarmouk resident told AFP that IS militants were losing ground to Palestinian fighters inside the camp.

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Thursday that "reliable sources" had told them that IS and al-Nusra Front remained in control of 80 percent of the camp.

Michael Kingsley-Nyinah, UNRWA Director in Syria, said: "This remains a volatile, rapidly changing environment of armed conflict and we must be prepared to respond to those in need, wherever they are."

He said: "The cooperation with a wide range of partners, including local leaders and the Syrian authorities, has been constructive. We are also grateful for support from some key donors, who have fully grasped the urgency of the situation.

"But the Agency cannot fully respond to this escalation without a major increase in funding."

On Friday, President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree that will see a day's wages from all PLO and Palestinian Authority staff, both military and civilian, donated towards Yarmouk.

The PA news agency Wafa reported that one percent of former civil servants' pensions will also be donated.

Yarmouk of symbolic importance

Yarmouk, which is Syria's largest refugee camp, was attacked by IS on April 1, and the group subsequently took over up to 90 percent of the camp.

Since then, armed Palestinian factions have fought to repel them while Syria's air force has struck IS positions in the camp.

On Tuesday, Palestinian sources reported that IS fighters were now confined largely to the camp's southwest, with Palestinian factions -- both pro- and anti-Syrian regime -- controlling most of the east and north.

However, it remains unclear how much territory either side controls.

Palestinian factions have reportedly established a "joint operations room" with Syrian government forces, although regime forces remain stationed outside the camp and have maintained a tight siege of the camp.

Once home to 160,000 people, Syrians as well as Palestinians, Yarmouk's population has dwindled since the uprising erupted in March 2011.

On Tuesday, UNWRA head Pierre Krahenbuhl told AFP that the situation in Yarmouk remained "catastrophic in human terms."

He said UNRWA was unable to enter the camp but was seeking "to find ways to resume distributions for people who are inside."

"It will be very difficult but we will try, we will discuss how to find places where distributions can take place that people can reach safely."

He also stressed the symbolic importance of Yarmouk, the largest of 12 Palestinian refugee camps in Syria.

"For Palestine refugees, Yarmouk is something very special. They have no intention of abandoning Yarmouk. Yarmouk is a place that is very deep in their identity."

AFP contributed to this report.
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