Seven die from food shortages in and around Damascus

Seven die from food shortages in and around Damascus

Three die from lack of food, medicine in Yarmouk refugee camp, next to capital; four die in Ghouta, site of last year's chemical weapons attack

Residents of Syria's besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp carry food parcels, February 1, 2014 (photo credit: UNRWA/AFP)
Residents of Syria's besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp carry food parcels, February 1, 2014 (photo credit: UNRWA/AFP)

BEIRUT — At least seven civilians have died of hunger and lack of medical care in two days in besieged areas in and around Syria’s capital Damascus, a monitoring group said Tuesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said medical sources reported three deaths at the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus and another four in the eastern Ghouta suburb between Monday and Tuesday.

“Two men, one of them elderly, and a young girl died on Monday after a deterioration in their health as a result of lack of food and medicine in Yarmouk,” said the Britain-based group, which relies on a network of activists and other sources inside Syria.

The camp, a built-up residential neighbourhood once home to some 150,000 Palestinians as well as Syrian residents, has been under a tight army siege for seven months.

The restrictions have led to the deaths of more than 100 people in the camp, much of which has been destroyed by fighting between regime and opposition forces.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA began distributing aid to the camp in mid-January, but operations were suspended on February 8 after fighting erupted.

On Sunday, a Palestinian official said all non-Palestinian gunmen had left the camp, but UNRWA said it had not been given permission to resume operations.

On Monday night, UNRWA urged all sides to allow renewed access.

“UNRWA strongly appeals to all parties to give the utmost priority to addressing the hunger, malnutrition and protracted suffering of civilians inside Yarmouk,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said.

“The authorities and concerned parties can do this by allowing UNRWA unrestricted, uninterrupted and substantial humanitarian access.”

In eastern Ghouta meanwhile, the Observatory said a girl, a woman and a man had died on Monday and another man died Tuesday as a result of shortages of food and medicine.

The opposition stronghold was targeted in a chemical weapons attack last August that is believed to have killed hundreds of people.

The attack prompted the United States to threaten military action that was forestalled when Syria agreed to give up its vast chemical arsenal for destruction.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said a trickle of aid had entered eastern Ghouta, but not enough to alleviate widespread humanitarian suffering.

“There are some who are less able to resist than others, and people are succumbing for lack of food and medical care. It’s a real war crime,” he said.

The Syrian army has used siege tactics against a number of rebel strongholds, including the central town of Homs.

Nearly half of the estimated 3,000 people trapped inside the Old City of Homs were evacuated by the United Nations and Red Crescent last week and aid was allowed in as the warring sides observed a temporary local truce.

But the operations came to a halt at the end of last week and have yet to resume.

Homs governor Talal Barazi told AFP on Tuesday that humanitarian operations “could restart next week” adding that a truce in place during the aid work “might be extended.”

He blamed the interruption of the work on “armed men inside (the city) who have stopped people from leaving.”

There was no immediate confirmation of the claim.

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