Syria: clashes hamper UN agency's effort to reach Palestinians in Yarmouk camp

Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees in the Syrian capital Damascus (January 2014). UN Photo

9 March 2014 – Violence has again disrupted efforts to deliver aid to a besieged camp on the outskirts of Damascus, the United Nations agency assisting Palestinian refugees across the Middle East warned today, as UN and other humanitarian agencies launched a global campaign demanding immediate access to all civilians in war-torn Syria trapped by the violence.

Spokesperson Christopher Gunness said the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) received credible reports that although substantially reduced in intensity, clashes and shelling have continued in Yarmouk camp for the past two days.

“Ongoing hostilities have now prevented UNRWA from distributing humanitarian assistance in Yarmouk for nine consecutive days,” he said, underscoring the agency's deep concern about the desperate humanitarian situation in the camp and the fact that repeated resort to armed force has, over the previous nine days, disrupted its efforts to alleviate the desperate plight of civilians.

“UNRWA reiterates its strong demands that all parties cease hostilities and seek to resolve their differences exclusively by peaceful means,” said Mr. Gunness, adding that the agency urges all concerned parties to immediately allow and facilitate the resumption of food distribution to civilians inside Yarmouk.

This call comes on the heels of the announcement by UNRWA earlier today that the global humanitarian community has released a joint Thunderclap statement demanding “immediate, secure, substantial and permanent humanitarian access for all civilians in Syria, including countless children.”

The statement is signed by 130 organizations, including major UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations along with smaller, grassroots groups with deep reach into local communities, says UNRWA.

It urges “all parties on the ground to listen to the voice of the international community as expressed unanimously through the Security Council and to act now to halt the march of death, injury, hunger and suffering.” It makes a call to world leaders on the third anniversary of the start of the conflict; “Don't let the people in Syria, children and families, lose another year to bloodshed and suffering, violating the most fundamental laws of war.”

Explaining the initiative, Mr. Gunness said, “This is part of a Thunderclap social media campaign which aims to reach 23 million people with #LetUsThrough. The Thunderclap itself will be at noon Yarmouk time on 18 March, when a tweet with our campaign hashtag will be released to millions of people who will have signed up. Anyone can join the campaign, individuals and organizations.”

“Once we reach 23 million, the iconic campaign image of thousands of civilians waiting for food in Yarmouk camp will appear on the world famous electronic billboard in New York's Times Square, sending a powerful signal to the global diplomatic community in UN Headquarters nearby,” he said, adding that the campaign will bring together humanitarians all round the world, sending a powerful diplomatic message but also sending a signal of solidarity with all civilians in Syria, “who have suffered enough because of this pitiless conflict.”


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