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Palestinians in Syria's Khan al-Shih refugee camp demand end to bombardment

Oct. 11, 2016 10:13 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 12, 2016 8:05 P.M.)
Khan al-Shih residents protest bombardment of the refugee camp and demand UNRWA and other organizations resume activities (Credit: @SiegeWatch
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Residents of the Palestinian refugee camp of Khan al-Shih in war-torn Syria southwest of Damascus held a protest Tuesday condemning the bombardment of the camp and threats of heavier siege conditions.

A statement released on Facebook during the protest listed several demands from residents of the camp, including the end of all bombardments, securing safe passage for residents, providing bread for residents, reinstating UNRWA-run and social services for the besieged camp, while giving medicine to children, women, and the elderly in the camp, and resuming the provision of services from all foundations and institutions.

The statement went on to urge the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and all Palestinian factions to “fulfill their responsibilities in maintaining and protecting the camp,” while protecting its “refugee residents until they return back to their original homes in Palestine.”

Last week, two volunteer workers with the Jafra Foundation, a relief organization operating in Palestinian refugee camps across Syria, were killed during Russian airstrikes targeting the besieged camp.

Two other civilians were injured in the airstrikes.

The Jafra services team provides relief and assistance to 12,000 Palestinian refugees and around 800 internally displaced Syrian families seeking shelter inside the camp.

The Jafra Foundation released a statement at the time, saying that the “deadly attacks were preceded by a full week of heavy bombardment on the Camp, with 50 plus barrel bombs raining down in and around the outskirts of Khan al-Shih between Tuesday and Sunday evening.”

In the previous week, two teachers and four students were injured when a school operated by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, was targeted by shelling, leaving some 2,000 refugee children without educational services.

Less than two months prior, 45-year-old Muhammad Mohsen, also a worker for the Jafra Foundation, was reportedly killed by a cluster bomb.
Khan al-Shih residents protest bombardment of the refugee camp and demand UNRWA and other organizations resume activities (Credit: @SiegeWatch)

Khan al-Shih has experienced intensified armed conflict in recent months, resulting in an increasing number of casualties, including Palestine refugees and other civilians.

More than 25 civilians have reportedly been killed by heavy shelling, rockets, barrel and cluster bombs since May.

“Continued attacks in recent months have destroyed infrastructure, including a sewage pit, which has caused suffering and placed the health of all residents at risk,” the Jafra Foundation said in their statement.

Notably, airstrikes on July 4 destroyed a building housing the foundation’s Child Friendly Space, a center devoted to providing psychological support, recreation, and risk and hygiene awareness to over 1,900 children.

Khan al-Shih, once home to more than 30,000 civilians, has seen some 50 percent of its population displaced.

Due to a partial regime-imposed siege and its location between fighting parties, its some 9,000 residents -- including over 3,000 children and 1,000 elderly people -- suffer from dire humanitarian conditions and lack of medical services, according to the Jafra Foundation.

Khan al-Shih, in addition to the Yarmouk refugee camp, are among areas of active conflict where tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees have been concentrated since the Syrian conflict began in the form of peaceful protests in March 2011 and quickly morphed into a civil war, since leaving more than 400,000 people dead and millions displaced.

Over half a million Palestinians lived across nine refugee camps in Syria prior to the war, the descendants of some of the 750,000 Palestinians expelled from their homes during the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Syria's civil war has seen many of these families displaced a second time, with up to 280,000 displaced inside Syria, a further 110,000 displaced to neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and increasingly, to Europe.

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