Middle East

Yarmouk tragedies go on despite aid delivery

Crowds of hopeful potential recipients wait to be allowed to proceed across the frontline to join the queue at the distribution area, on Rama Street at the besieged al-Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014. (The Daily Star/UNRWA, HO)

BEIRUT: As aid distribution and the evacuation of urgent cases from the besieged Yarmouk neighborhood of Damascus took place over the weekend the tragedies continued with four new deaths.

Three people perished from malnutrition and dehydration, while a fourth resident was trampled to death during the distribution of the desperately needed supplies.Activists from the Palestinian refugee camp in the neighborhood said Sunday that a man named Mahmoud Saadi was the victim of the rush to receive aid, adding that anxious camp residents trying to secure some of the food parcels began lining up at 2 a.m. for the distribution.

“The number of people waiting in line today was huge and the number of baskets was far less than the number of those people there,” an activist from the camp told The Daily Star.

The pro-opposition Yarmouk News Facebook page said that in the camp, there were “thousands of elderly and incapacitated people who have no breadwinner – it is very difficult for them to stand in a [500-meter-long] line, while the crowding of recent days has meant that a number of women and elderly people have been hurt.”

The group said that additional distribution points were needed to alleviate the situation.

Separately, an elderly man, a woman and an infant succumbed to malnutrition and dehydration, bringing the total death toll from nutrition-related ailments in the besieged camp to 93 people during a monthslong siege by government forces, activists said.

An unspecified number of students and pregnant women were evacuated from the camp, after “chaos” had prevented their exit the day before, they added.

A pro-government Palestinian group said hundreds of people were covered by the evacuation, in a rare moment of coordination between the government and rebel forces.

Anwar Raja, a spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which operates in Yarmouk, said that the group had coordinated with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to extract “hundreds” of residents.

The evacuees were transported to several government-run hospitals and one operated by the Red Crescent, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.

The Red Crescent could not be reached in order to confirm the details of the operation.

Chris Gunness, the spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which cares for Palestinian refugees, said almost 3,000 food parcels had reached the camp since Jan. 18, when it gained access. Each parcel can feed a family of eight for about 10 days, meaning that needs still far outstrip aid deliveries.

“Residents including infants and children have been subsisting for long periods on diets of stale vegetables, herbs, powdered tomato paste, animal feed and cooking spices dissolved in water,” Gunness said.

Opposition activists say the government is using hunger as a weapon of war, but Damascus accuses rebels of firing on aid convoys and says it fears aid supplies will go to armed groups.

Granting relief groups access to an estimated 250,000 people trapped by fighting across Syria was one of the goals of the peace talks held last week in Switzerland, which adjourned Friday with no substantial results.

Despite lengthy discussions, the sides could not agree on passage for an aid convoy to reach 2,500 people trapped in the old city of Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, with no access to food or medicine.

Activists in Homs, meanwhile, said that a 2-day-old infant perished due to a lack of medical supplies and malnutrition.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 03, 2014, on page 8.


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