BEIRUT (Reuters) - The U.N. agency responsible for Palestinian refugees said it had provided urgent supplies on Monday to around 500 civilians who have fled fighting in a Damascus camp that Islamic State has been battling to seize from rival insurgents.
The mission to help the evacuees from the Yarmouk camp “was made possible following facilitation and dialogue with the Syrian government and local authorities”, Pierre Kraehenbuehl, the head of the UNRWA agency, said in a statement.
“UNRWA has shown that we can work with the parties on the ground and secure access,” he said in Damascus while on a humanitarian mission to address the crisis in Yarmouk, where U.N. officials have warned of a potential massacre.
Islamic State militants launched an attack to seize Yarmouk camp from rival insurgents earlier this month. The camp, besieged by government forces since 2013, is estimated to be home to 18,000 people.
Monday’s visit was to an area called Yalda, to the southeast of the camp. Initial estimates indicated that 3,000 Palestinians and Syrians had fled Yarmouk to that area, the UNRWA statement said.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned last week that residents of Yarmouk were being “held hostage” by Islamic State militants and other extremists.
Ban said its residents “face a double-edged sword – armed elements inside the camp, and government forces outside”. He demanded an end to hostilities, humanitarian access, and safe passage for civilians who wanted to leave.
UNRWA said its teams had been able to deliver life-saving medicines, food, water, mattresses and blankets during Monday’s visit.
“In the coming days, UNRWA will continue to bring vital assistance to these people,” Kraehenbuehl said.
Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Andrew Roche