Middle East

PLO in Damascus for talks to end camp siege

File - People inspect damaged areas after what activists say were missiles fired by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Assad in the refugee camp of Yarmouk, near Damascus, July 24, 2013. (REUTERS/Ward Al-Keswani)

DAMASCUS: The Palestine Liberation Organization is in talks with the Syrian government about ending a Palestinian refugee camp siege that has prompted tens of thousands to flee, Palestinian officials said Tuesday.

Pro-Damascus Palestinian groups have laid siege for months to pro-rebel groups inside the Yarmouk camp on the southern outskirts of Damascus, prompting the exodus of at least 135,000 of its 170,000 residents.

“Negotiations are underway for the withdrawal of the armed men from the camp, the opening of the entrance points and the return of services,” the PLO’s ambassador to Damascus, Anwar Abdel Hadi told AFP.

“If they succeed and the armed men withdraw, the Syrian police will take control of the camp, as it was before the fighting, and the Syrian army will remain on the outskirts,” he added.

“We’re trying to reach a solution.”

The fighting around the camp pits pro-Damascus Palestinian factions, such as Al-Saiqa and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, against groups such as Hamas that support the Syrian rebels.

The pro-Damascus groups have pushed a few hundred meters inside the camp, but the pro-rebel groups, who are backed by Al-Qaeda loyalists, remain holed up inside.

Their position has become increasingly difficult in recent weeks, however, as advances by the Syrian army in Damascus province have threatened to cut their supply lines.

Living conditions for the camp’s remaining civilian residents have become dire, as supplies of food and medicine have run out.

The PLO delegation, led by executive committee member Zakaria al-Agha, arrived from the West Bank town of Ramallah Sunday to discuss a Palestinian proposal for ending the siege.

A member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a PLO faction that is not party to the fighting, said the proposal called for the return of the camp’s residents.

“It stipulates the withdrawal of the armed men, the return of the camp’s residents to their homes and the provision of support for their return to normal life,” said DFLP member Rashid Kweidar, who is close to the negotiations.

The PLO ambassador said an aid convoy was “outside the camp right now,” waiting to enter in order to deliver relief supplies.

Abu Bassel Fuad, a member of the pro-Damascus Palestine Liberation Front, told AFP the priority was “the entry of food, medicines and vaccines for children.”

He said the aim was to open “humanitarian corridors to allow the transport of the wounded and the safe movement of residents.”

Earlier Tuesday the Syrian state news agency and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist network, said a truce was brokered in Yarmouk neighborhood, but other activists could not immediately confirm the deal, and there were still reports of fighting.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 13, 2013, on page 8.




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