BEIRUT

Middle East

Clashes shatter week-old truce in Syria’s Yarmouk

A man runs as flames rise from buildings attacked by Syrian government airstrike in the town of Kfar Takharim, Idlib.

BEIRUT: Firefights and shelling rocked the Yarmouk neighborhood of southern Damascus Sunday, killing a man and breaking a weeks-old truce, said a group that monitors the Syrian conflict.

“There was shelling of Yarmouk and fighting between Nusra Front and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. “The truce has been broken.”

Separately, the Observatory said four Islamist rebels were killed in shelling on the town of Adra northeast of Damascus. The Observatory cited reports from activists in the area that “gas” was used in the shelling, without elaborating.

In Yarmouk, each side blamed the other for breaking the cease-fire. The truce took hold on Feb. 10 in Yarmouk, where some 40,000 people have been living in inhumane conditions since mid-2013, after the Nusra Front withdrew from the camp.

A fragile respite had allowed in limited aid by the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees in recent weeks.

However, the Nusra Front accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and its allies from the PFLP-GC of breaking the deal.

It said the jihadists had initially agreed to withdraw because of the poor humanitarian situation, but that “a very small number of food parcels” had been distributed in comparison to the agreed amounts.

Activists in Yarmouk confirmed via the Internet that Nusra Front members re-entered the camp Sunday and reported shelling and fighting.

“I was out filming and suddenly the shelling started. You should have seen the children: They were terrified,” said Rami al-Sayed, an activist in Yarmouk. “There are no civilians on the streets. Everyone’s afraid and hiding in their houses because of the shelling and sniping.”

Sayed said that throughout the truce, “the only medical relief that made it into Yarmouk was smuggled in, and in tiny amounts.”

The PFLP-GC blamed Nusra Front for breaking the accord.

“This morning, Nusra Front returned once again to Yarmouk camp, disrupting the peace initiative whose aim was to address the tragedy of the hostage camp,” spokesman Anwar Raja said. Chris Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, said on Twitter: “Bad news: looks like there were no UNRWA food distributions today in the besieged Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk.”

After months of shelling and fierce fighting in and around Yarmouk between rebels and Assad loyalists, the camp’s population has shrunk from more than 150,000 to 40,000. Among them are 18,000 Palestinians.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 03, 2014, on page 1.

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