Relief convoy reaches besieged Yarmouk following landmark agreement
Published Saturday 18/01/2014 (updated) 20/01/2014 09:34
DAMASCUS (Ma'an) -- Palestinian Authority Minister of Labor Ahmed Majdalani said that a convoy with food and medicine had entered Syria's Yarmouk camp on Saturday afternoon as part of a relief agreement for the camp reached on Friday.
Majdalani said that the convoy includes 200 parcels weighing 30 kg each, consisting of basic foodstuffs to help Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk after seven months of siege imposed by regime forces.
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness confirmed that the aid had been successfully received inside the camp as part of a "trial phase" of the agreement.
Majdalani said during a press conference at the national information center in Ramallah on Saturday that some of the non-Palestinian armed factions had left the camp starting Friday evening, and that the rest of these factions would leave the camp on Saturday and Sunday.
He said that their departure would be followed by more aid convoys on Sunday, including food and medicines, while the evacuation of the sick, injured, and the elderly would begin today in collaboration with the Syrian Ministry of Social Affairs, which will provide shelters for the evacuees.
University students, meanwhile, would be evacuated starting Sunday.
Majdalani also explained that bulldozers began to remove roadblocks and barriers that had previously blocked major roads linking the camp to the outside world in order to facilitate the delivery of relief convoys and to return life to normal inside the camp.
He stressed that the fact that "militants barricaded themselves inside the camp was no coincidence," but was primarily a "political act."
He added: "We will work hard to ensure that the Palestinians in Syria remain neutral and outside of the Syrian internal crisis because the Palestinians in Syria are guests and do not interfere in the internal affairs of the host country."
UNRWA is playing 'support role'
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said that "Syrian authorities sought UNRWA's support as the neutral, humanitarian agency with a mandate for Palestine refugees. It is important to emphasize that the contribution of UNRWA was a small contribution to the effort of others, such as the Palestinian groups, to test an arrangement.
"UNRWA responded positively by donating the requested food parcels -- not directly to the Palestinian factions -- but through an intermediary," and he said that they received assurances that the donations would be distributed in a "neutral manner for humanitarian purposes."
He clarified, however, that in the convoy, "UNRWA is playing only a support role. Today's effort is not an UNRWA convoy and UNRWA is not involved or engaged in the transport of the food parcels into Yarmouk or its distribution inside Yarmouk."
"Regardless of the outcome of today's effort, UNRWA's position remains that Yarmouk must be open to safe, regular humanitarian access; that the civilian residents of Yarmouk must be granted free, safe movement; and that all sides to the Syria conflict must comply with their international obligations to protect Syrian and Palestinian civilians in Yarmouk and across Syria," he added.
The announcement came after the 14 militant factions involved in the fighting, the national reconciliation committee, and Palestinian militants inside the camp had agreed to allow the introduction of aid into the camp from the Rama Road entrance on Saturday.
The agreement was the result of a long meeting that took place on Friday between the parties involved in the clashes in the camp that was chaired by Rateb Shehab, head of the delegation, with a delegation from inside the camp representing the armed groups and Palestinian committees headed by Abu Hashem Zaghmout, Abu al-Abd Arisha and Abu Saleh Fatyan.
As a result of the meeting, humanitarian aid began entering today, and preparations have begun to remove barriers from the Rama Street entrance to the camp to facilitate the movement of the sick and the young from the camp.
Several attempts to deliver aid to Yarmouk camp have been thwarted in recent weeks due to rigorous fighting within and around the camp.
At least four Palestinians were killed in the camp on Thursday after government helicopters dropped a barrel bomb on it, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Militants say at least seven Palestinians refugees died in the attack.
At least 50 people have died due to food and medicine shortages in the camp in recent months, according to the Observatory.
After rebels seized control of Yarmouk in December 2012, the camp became embroiled in the armed fighting taking place across Syria and came under heavy regime assault.
Regime forces eventually encircled the camp and in July imposed a siege on the camp, leading to a rapid deterioration of living conditions.
Fatah leader Abbas Zaki told Ma'an in mid-October that Yarmouk's population of 250,000 had dwindled to 18,000 after two and a half years of conflict in Syria.
The Syrian conflict, which began as peaceful protests in March 2011 but developed into a civil war, has killed more than 130,000 people and prompted millions to flee their homes.
More than 760,000 Palestinians -- estimated today to number 4.8 million with their descendants -- were pushed into exile or driven out of their homes in the conflict surrounding Israel's creation in 1948.