DAMASCUS: Food deliveries to thousands of people living in a blockaded area of southern Damascus ground to a halt after a truce collapsed and clashes broke out between Syrian rebels and forces loyal to the government, a U.N. official and activists said Monday.
The clashes, which erupted Sunday afternoon and lasted until Monday morning, were the most serious violence in weeks in the Palestinian-dominated district of Yarmouk and seriously undermined a tentative truce struck there in early January.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights reported that regime forces shelled areas of Yarmouk Monday.
A U.N. spokesman in Damascus, Chris Gunness, urged all parties to “immediately allow” the resumption of aid to the area.
The U.N. “remains deeply concerned about the desperate humanitarian situation in Yarmouk, and the fact that increasing tensions and resort to armed force have disrupted its efforts to alleviate the desperate plight of civilians,” Gunness said.
Activists estimate that over 100 people have died of hunger or hunger-related illnesses since a blockade began nearly a year ago.
The halt in distribution also underscores problems that bedevil a Feb. 22 U.N. Security Council resolution that called on warring parties to facilitate food and aid deliveries to Syrians in need.
The latest clashes also sparked concerns for future deliveries. “It will be like it was before. We are back to zero,” said a Yarmouk-based activist who goes by the name Abu Akram.
The truce, which took months to negotiate, collapsed after rebel gunmen returned to Yarmouk Sunday. They had withdrawn from the area about a month ago as part of the truce, replaced by a patrol of Palestinian gunmen, keeping out both rebels and fighters loyal to President Bashar Assad.
The rebels accused pro-Assad fighters of violating the truce, Abu Akram said. An activist group, “Palestinians of Syria,” voiced similar accusations.
The rebels said Saturday that Assad loyalists were sneaking weapons into Yarmouk under the guise of the joint patrols, delaying food distribution and arresting young men waiting for U.N. food parcels.
A day later, the rebels returned and clashes broke out pitting fighters of the Free Syrian Army, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and other groups against soldiers and gunmen from pro-Assad Palestinian groups, Abu Akram said.
The clashes – a mix of gunbattles, sniper fire and mortar shells – killed an ambulance driver, he added.
“Reconciliation efforts have ... reached a deadlock,” said Anwar Raja, the spokesman for the pro-Assad Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
The U.N. began distributing food to Yarmouk on Jan. 18 after warring parties agreed to a truce. The distribution was hindered by sporadic clashes, including on Feb. 7 and 8, Gunness said.
In total, the U.N. has distributed 7,708 food parcels to Yarmouk’s 18,000 registered Palestinian refugees. Activists say there are thousands more displaced Syrians also living in the district and suffering from malnutrition and food shortages.