Middle East

Aid enters besieged Syria Yarmouk camp for second day

Residents receive food aid distributed by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) at the besieged al-Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus January 30, 2014, in this handout released by Syria's national news agency SANA. REUTERS/SANA

DAMASCUS: The United Nations distributed food in the Syrian capital's besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp for a second day Friday in a bid to help tens of thousands of trapped civilians.

The aid distribution comes after months of siege by the army that has caused shortages of food and medicines, which have led to the deaths of 86 people, according to a monitoring group.

UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) spokesman Chris Gunness said an aid convoy entered the camp in south Damascus on Friday morning.

"UNRWA staff began distributing food parcels at 10 am (0800 GMT) and so far have handed out just under 100. This follows the distribution of 1,026 food parcels yesterday (Thursday)," he said.

Yarmouk is largely in the hands of rebel forces, and has been under army siege since June, making it nearly impossible for food and medicines to enter or for residents to leave.

Residents have spoken of eating grass, cats, and dogs in a bid to stay alive.

The camp began as a home for Palestinian refugees, but long ago evolved into a bustling district housing some 150,000 Palestinians, as well as many Syrians.

But now just an estimated 18,000 Palestinians remain in the camp, much of which has been destroyed by fighting.

Gunness said UNRWA appreciated the efforts of the Syrian government and others in facilitating the aid delivery.

"These distributions demonstrate that the extraordinary suffering in Yarmouk and other closed areas of Syria can be addressed if all parties to the conflict fulfil their obligations to protect civilians," he said.

He said UNRWA stood ready to provide food for all the estimated 18,000 Palestinian civilians still in the camp.

The food parcels contain enough provisions to feed a family for 10 days, and Gunness said it was "imperative that continuous access to Yarmouk is authorised and supported."

Gunness said "chaotic scenes" accompanied Thursday's aid distribution -- the first since January 21 -- as thousands of residents tried to get food.

Yarmouk is one of a number of rebel-held areas where army blockades have left trapped civilians in desperate straits. The United Nations has also been trying to negotiate access for humanitarian aid to the besieged Old City of Homs.





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