Amid ISIS Offensive, Besieged Refugee Camp in Syria Under 'Profound Threat'
The 18,000 residents of Palestinian refugee camp in Syria have already endured siege, starvation, and fighting
Aid organizations and residents are warning of a mounting humanitarian disaster in Syria's Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, where approximately 18,000 residents are caught between an ongoing offensive by ISIS militants and air bombardments from the Syrian government's armed forces.
ISIS launched an attack on the camp on April 1 and was met with fierce fighting from the militia Aknaf Beit al-Madqis, which is described by the Electronic Intifada as "an anti-government militia in the camp aligned with the Palestinian faction Hamas."
The Yarmouk-based human rights NGO Jafra Foundation for Relief and Youth Development reports that the onslaught on the camp was coordinated between ISIS and the Syrian al-Qaeda aligned Jabhat al-Nusra. According to the Jafra Foundation, numerous civilians volunteered to help defend the camp against the offensive.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain, reported over the weekend that the Syrian Air Force, led by President Bashar al-Assad, dropped bombs on Yarmouk.
Major media outlets have been unable to verify key information about the fighting, due to the lack of security and access. However, witnesses and organizations on the ground describe the situation as dire.
"There are no definitive numbers reported for those injured or deceased but as of now 15 people have been confirmed as deceased and around 60 people have been reported in critical condition," said the Jafra Foundation over the weekend.
All medical facilities in the camp have ceased their operations, according to the Jafra Foundation. In addition, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency warns that residents suffer dangerous shortages of food and water.
Yarmouk's Syrian and Palestinian residents—including 3,500 children—have already endured siege, fighting, starvation, and lack of access to water and medical supplies as a result of the country's ongoing conflict.
However, aid workers warn that the crisis is at its most acute point yet.
"The lives of civilians in Yarmouk have never been more profoundly threatened," said UNRWA in a statement released Sunday. "Men, women and children—Syrians and Palestinians alike—are cowering in their battered homes in profound fear, desperate for security, food and water, deeply concerned by the grave perils that may yet come, as hostilities continue."
UNRWA added, "It is virtually impossible for civilians to leave Yarmouk as any attempt to move in the open brings high risk."