Middle East

Palestinians die from hunger, medical shortages in Yarmouk

Palestinians demonstrate in front of the offices of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Ramallah to protest the death of Palestinians in the Yarmuk refugee camp in Syria, from malnutrition, demanding Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas intervene on January 4, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

BEIRUT: A Syrian monitoring group said Friday it had documented the deaths of 41 Palestinian refugees in besieged Yarmouk camp, including women and children, as a result of food and medical shortages.

“Food and medical shortages have killed at least 41 people in the past three months in Yarmouk” in southern Damascus, which has been under suffocating army siege since rebel groups took control of it, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Of the total, 24 have died as a result of malnutrition. The rest died either because of a lack of specialized treatment or because of a shortage of medicines, Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said.

According to the Britain-based group, which relies on a network of activists and doctors across Syria for its reports, three of the fatalities were children and 13 of them women.

“Among them was a one-day-old child who could have survived had there been incubators,” Abdel-Rahman said.

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees has frequently warned about the dire conditions in Yarmouk.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness Thursday described “extreme human suffering” in the camp, saying food shortages continued and that the absence of medical care had led to women dying in childbirth.

Syria’s army has imposed sieges on several rebel towns and neighborhoods near Damascus and beyond.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, meanwhile, also warned aid was not reaching civilians in Syria as he began a visit to Syria to assess the humanitarian situation and negotiate greater field access for the ICRC.

The ICRC president will hold talks in Damascus with a number of senior Syrian government officials and with the leadership and volunteers of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the ICRC’s main partner in the country. Maurer will also be visiting people suffering the effects of the conflict to observe the situation first-hand.

“I am deeply concerned about the escalating violence and its impact on civilians,” Maurer said. “I am determined to press for greater field access for the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent – in particular, to improve the impartial delivery of medical aid in besieged areas. Another priority is to ensure that our staff are rapidly given access to Syrian places of detention to assess conditions and treatment.”

Yarmouk was once home to some 170,000 people but tens of thousands have fled fighting in the camp.

Syria is officially home to nearly 500,000 Palestinian refugees, around half of whom have been displaced by the conflict.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 11, 2014, on page 10.




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