"Nothing short of slaughter" in Yarmouk, says UN aide

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People are starving but too scared to leave their homes at the camp, which the UN has not had access to since 28 March. Photo: UNRWA (file)

The plight of nearly 20,000 Palestinian refugees has deteriorated even further at a camp in the Syrian capital where ISIS extremists have largely taken control, the UN said Friday.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesperson Chris Gunness told journalists that armed groups now held sway over half of the camp.

The aid spokesperson said that those who wanted to leave the camp should be allowed to do so, amid unconfirmed reports of aerial bombardments.

Daniel Johnson has more.

Yarmouk refugee camp was once the "bustling heart" of Damascus but it's now home to 18,000 desperate people, UN spokesperson Chris Gunness told reporters.

The UN aid coordinator described how the camp for Palestinian refugees contained women who were dying in childbirth because there was no medicine available.

And he said people were starving but "too scared" to leave their homes, adding that the UN has been unable to access the camp since 28 March.

In 2014 the situation was already dire as the camp's residents lived on only 400 calories a day; in 2013 the Syrian government had imposed an almost total siege on Yarmouk, Gunness said, adding that it was a "recipe for certain malnutrition".

He repeated the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's appeal for action from the international community, saying that what was happening was an "affront to the civilised world".

"With 3,500 children amongst the 18,000 people who are trapped in Yarmouk, today, this hour, we are looking at nothing short of the potential massacre of the innocents, and as the Secretary General has made clear, the international system itself is being weighed in the scales and must not be found wanting."

Gunness said that the extremists had entered the camp from the south and controlled half of it, while 95 per cent of the refugees lived in areas run by the armed groups.

He called for a ceasefire before stressing the need for a politically negotiated settlement to the four-year-old conflict.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations

Duration: 1'33"


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