RAMALLAH (AFP) — A senior Palestinian official said Monday he was headed to Damascus for talks on helping residents inside the Yarmouk refugee camp, parts of which have been overrun by the Islamic State group.
Hundreds of families have been evacuated from the camp in a southern neighborhood of Damascus after IS militants launched on attack on Wednesday.
Palestinian forces inside Yarmouk are largely surrounded by IS fighters who have captured large parts of the camp.
Ahmed Majdalani, an official with the PLO, told AFP that he would discuss with Syrian officials “ways to offer help to our people in the Yarmouk camp”.
In a statement, the PLO called for “all sides to immediately agree to protect the camp from efforts to turn it into a battlefield”.
It also called for civilians to have access to relief corridors and to humanitarian and medical assistance.
Majdalani accused IS militants of “seeking to control the whole camp” and to use it “as a springboard for attacks on the Syrian capital Damascus because of its strategic location”.
Since the militant advance began, regime forces have pounded the camp with shells and barrel bombs, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.
“We don’t need to turn our people into human shields and pay the price for a fight that they have no role in,” Majdalani told AFP.
Dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters meanwhile protested in Gaza on Monday to demand an end to the violence in Yarmuk.
“We demand the attackers immediately stop their killing,” former Hamas justice minister Mohamed Faraj al-Ghul told protesters outside the parliament building in the Gaza Strip.
Yarmouk “must be a neutral place, far from the madness of war,” he said, urging an international intervention to “stop the killing”.
Earlier, President Mahmoud Abbas expressed grave concern over the crisis in Yarmouk, PLO executive committee member Saeb Erekat said.
Abbas denounced the “hideous crimes by the Islamic State group against our people,” said Erekat.
Palestinians “are people who live under occupation. When countries of the world suffer crises, their people later return to their countries, but we are denied our right to return, and we live in danger even in refugee camps,” the PLO negotiator added.
Yarmouk was once a thriving neighborhood home to 160,000 Palestinian refugees and Syrians but has been caught up in the country’s civil unrest which began in 2011.
It has been besieged by regime forces for more than a year and only about 18,000 residents are estimated to remain in the camp after many fled the fighting.
IS, which has seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq, has fought not only against the President Bashar Assad’s regime but also against other rebel groups as it seeks to expand the territory under its control.
Ma’an staff contributed to this report.