UN agency deplores impact of Syria crisis on Palestinian refugees, laments staff member's death

Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees in the Syrian capital Damascus. Photo: IRIN/Gabriela Keller

16 July 2013 – The UN agency tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees today expressed sorrow at the death of another of its workers in Syria, bringing the total to seven staffers who have lost their lives as a result of the conflict, which continues to inflict “needless suffering” on communities across Syria.

In a statement, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) expressed great sorrow at the death of 38-year old Muhannad Ashmawi, who joined the agency in 2007 as a school attendant. He served in two UNRWA schools in Yarmouk, where he had lived alone after sending his wife, son and daughter, to safety in western Syria.

According to the statement, Mr. Ashmawi sustained serious head injuries on 9 July, when a shell exploded at the southern end of Palestine Street in Yarmouk. Ongoing conflict prevents the functioning of hospitals or clinics in Yarmouk, so Mr. Ashmawi was rushed by neighbours to Al Moshtahed hospital in central Damascus. He died of his injuries on 14 July.

“UNRWA sends its deep and heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Muhannad Ashmawi,” the statement says, adding that the agency has informed the Syrian authorities of the death of its staff member and is reiterating its calls to afford protection from the effects of armed conflict for refugees and other civilians across Syria.

Mr. Ashmawi is the seventh UNRWA staff member to be killed as a result of the Syria conflict. “His tragic death occurs against the backdrop of intensifying armed conflict in Yarmouk and other Palestine refugee camps and neighbourhoods across Syria,” the statement says, stressing that the situation is aggravating an already dire humanitarian situation, causing new waves of significant displacement and raising the toll of deaths and serious injuries among Palestinians and Syrians.

“UNRWA condemns the persistent failure of all sides to protect civilians and safeguard human life in Syria. Violations of international humanitarian law are causing civilian deaths, injuries and displacement, including among the Palestine refugee community in Syria,” the statement says, adding that armed opposition groups and other parties to the conflict must desist from taking up positions or conducting the conflict in Palestine refugee camps and other civilian areas.

Further, the agency deplores the “immeasurable, needless human suffering that continues to affect communities across Syria” due to insistence on attempting to resolve the conflict militarily.

“In the strongest terms, UNRWA reiterates its appeal to all concerned parties to end the suffering, comply with their obligations under international law and resolve the conflict in Syria through mediated dialogue and negotiations,” the statement concludes.


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