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  • Fighters from the Al-Nusra Front near the front line with Syrian government solders in Yarmuk

    Fighters from the Al-Nusra Front near the front line with Syrian government solders in Yarmuk | Photo: AFP

Published 15 April 2016

Clashes between the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra leave Yarmouk camp in a dire situation. Food, water and medicine are all in short supply as civilians perish.

The situation in the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk continues to worsen as rival extremist groups the Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, continue to battle.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) "is extremely concerned by the humanitarian consequences of intense armed conflict between extremist armed groups inside Yarmouk," UNRWA Christopher Gunness said in a statement.

Related: UNRWA Celebrates Aid to Palestinian Refugees in Syria

The battle inside the camp, which is a southern suburb of Damascus, has been raging since April 7.

"It is distressing to see yet another episode of extreme trauma and suffering imposed on civilians in Yarmouk. The continuous, highly intense fighting is not only causing civilian casualties and fatalities, but has also acutely aggravated shortages of food and clean water for the approximately 6,000 civilian families residing inside Yarmouk," Gunness continued.

According to the Jafra Foundation for Relief and Youth Development, a human rights organization founded inside Yarmouk in 2002, "the clashes have led to the division of the Camp, with ISIS controlling most of the camp, besieging Jabhat al-Nusra in small areas. Most importantly, 2,500 families are trapped inside their homes."

Yarmouk was once home to roughly 200,000 Palestinian refugees who had either fled or been forced out of Palestinian by Israeli aggression. It was considered the capital of the Palestinian diaspora.

Today, around 8,000 residents remain. Although UNRWA had been conducting missions inside the camp since late 2015, they have stopped since IS took control of the camp.

Now, those Palestinians who remain have very little access to food, water or healthcare.

"Only two water trucks were able to access the camp to provide water," the statement from the Jafra Foundation said, "a halt of almost all water distribution in the camp prevails."

At least four civilians in the camp have also been killed, two of whom were beheaded.

Yarmouk is an important crossroads to the heart of Damascus, the stronghold of Bashar al-Assad's government. As such, the five-year Syrian civil war has seen many actors battle for control of the camp.

In April 2015, IS invaded the camp in league with al-Nusra and took control of the overwhelming majority of its territory.Soon after, the Syrian army and allied Palestinian factions drove the group from the camp.

IS burned down one of two functioning hospitals on April 13, destroying all of the medicine and medical equipment inside. Palestine Hospital is the only functioning hospital in the camp, and "ongoing clashes and heavy sniping in the street" make it nearly impossible for the wounded to seek care.

"Furthermore, medical staff in the camp are not able to reach those killed during clashes to evacuate bodies from the streets. All schools inside the Camp have halted operations due to recent events, in particular after a 10-year-old child was injured by sniper shot on the first day of clashes while walking to school," the Jafra Foundation said.

"The outbreak of fighting has already caused UNRWA to suspend humanitarian missions to Yalda this week. As long as the fighting continues, these missions will remain suspended," UNRWA spokesman Gunness concluded.

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