Middle East

63 dead from hunger, medical shortages in Damascus camp: Activists

Two Palestinian women stand under a banner decrying the situation in the Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk, Syria, in the center of the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. Arabic on poster reads, "Yarmouk refugee camp, we are starving to death, the national high committee for the right of return." (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

BEIRUT: Syrian activists said Friday it has documented the deaths of 63 people, including women and children, in the besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus because of food and medical shortages.

Yarmuk in southern Damascus has been under a choking army siege since June, along with several other opposition-held areas across Syria, mostly around the capital and in the central city of Homs.

"The number of people who have died in Yarmuk camp as a result of their poor health and living conditions, and the severe lack of food and medicine has risen to 63," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Conditions in the camp have deteriorated in recent months, with the price of food and other basic goods skyrocketing, if they were at all available.

"Sixty-one of the dead lost their lives in the past three months," said the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and doctors inside the country for its reports.

Food aid entered Yarmuk last week for the first time in four months.

UN rights chief Navi Pillay has warned blocking assistance to civilians "in desperate need may amount to a war crime."

Activists in other besieged areas have also complained of dismal conditions.

In Homs, activists say hundreds of families have been holed up for nearly 600 days in a handful of districts still held by rebels.

They come under near-daily shelling and activists there say they have run out of most food supplies, and that residents now have little more than olives to survive on.

In a bid to shed light on their circumstances, activists in Homs launched a campaign this week, putting up yellow signposts inscribed with slogans describing life in the rebel areas.

"For two years, 300 children have had no schooling," reads one, according to photographs shared by Homs-based activist Yazan.

"One hundred people need urgent surgery," reads another, held up by a young man on one of Homs' heavily damaged streets.

In the Eastern Ghouta area east of Damascus, conditions of life are also dire, said activist Tareq al-Dimashqi, who spoke to AFP via Skype.

"No one can provide for themselves, and when food does come in, it is at crazy prices," he said.

Meanwhile fighting raged across, Syria the Observatory said, as the so-called Geneva II peace talks offered no respite to the war-torn country.

Government troops shelled the Eastern Ghouta area where rebels were battling regime forces backed by Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and the Iraqi Abul Fadl al-Abbas brigade.

Clashes continued in the historic Old City area of Aleppo, Syria's onetime commercial capital, now ruined a year and a half on from a massive rebel offensive.

Syria's war has killed more than 130,000 people in nearly three years, and forced millions more to flee their homes.





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