DAMASCUS: Dozens of critically ill residents of the besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus were evacuated Sunday, a Palestinian official said.
The Yarmouk camp has been largely under the control of Syrian opposition forces for months and government forces have imposed a siege and choked off the entry of supplies into the camp since September.
“The evacuation has begun of a number of critical humanitarian cases from the Yarmouk camp,” said Palestine Liberation Organization official Anwar Abdel-Hadi.
He added that 50 people had left the camp so far, expecting the final tally to double that figure.
The siege has caused acute shortages inside the camp and more than 50 residents have reportedly died from hunger and lack of medical care.
Abdel-Hadi said the evacuations would continue daily until 600 residents in a critical condition, along with those suffering chronic illnesses and children and pregnant women, had left Yarmouk.
Meanwhile, an aid convoy, carrying some 400 food packages, was expected to enter the camp one day after a first batch of food aid was delivered, after an agreement was reached between representatives of Palestinian factions and rebels inside the camp.
The aid was carried out in coordination with the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, which provided food parcels that were delivered to the camp via an intermediary.
Anwar Raja, a spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, said hundreds of boxes of food stuffs entered the camp. He said much of the material was carried by members of PFLP-GC members and committees in the camp.
“The process is moving slowly since they are being carried on the shoulder to avoid sniper fire,” he said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists around the country, said an elderly man died in the camp earlier Saturday because of the food shortage.
PFLP-GC members are fighting against Syrian opposition fighters who control most of the camp.
Raja said the aim is to send 7,000 boxes for 7,000 families into the camp’s rebel-held areas. He added that more food supplies would be sent into the camp in the coming days and later medical supplies would be sent as well.
He said committees in the camp would hand over the food boxes to families by name “so that [opposition] gunmen don’t take them.”
Opposition activists and news websites have criticized the piecemeal distribution of food aid for Yarmouk, calling it woefully adequate for the thousands of desperate residents of the camp.
Chris Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, said it donated 200 food parcels Saturday after authorities had requested its support for the delivery.
“In this instance, 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,” he said in an email.
Shooting forced the United Nations to abort a delivery Monday of food and polio vaccines to Yarmouk after the Syrian government said it should use a circuitous and dangerous route, UNRWA’s Gunness said Wednesday.
The U.N.’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, has warned that blocking “humanitarian assistance to civilians in desperate need may amount to a war crime.”
Separately, government officials received a new shipment of humanitarian aid from Russia that arrived over the weekend, state news agency SANA said Sunday.
SANA did not specify the size of the shipment but said it included foodstuffs and baby formula.
An earlier shipment of 44 tons of Russian aid had arrived at an airport in Latakia province last month.