Five civilians killed in Syria regime shelling on IS-held district

A picture taken on April 21, 2018, shows smoke billowing from the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk during regime strikes targeting the Islamic State group
AFP

Beirut (AFP) – Five civilians have been killed in 24 hours in regime shelling on a southern district of Syria’s capital held by the Islamic State group, a monitor said Sunday.

Syrian troops are waging an intense bombing campaign against Yarmuk, a Palestinian refugee camp on the edge of Damascus, and nearby districts that are held by IS.

An elderly man was killed Sunday in shelling on Yarmuk, and another died after he was wounded in bombardment there the previous day, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

A woman, her husband, and their child were killed in shelling in Yarmuk late Saturday, it said.

“This brings to 11 the number of civilians killed since the shelling escalated on Thursday,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

The bombing and clashes continued into Sunday, Abdel Rahman said, with air strikes, artillery, and surface-to-surface missiles hitting the neighbourhood.

Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), said the bombardment had pushed most Yarmuk residents to flee their homes and put the area’s last hospital out of service.

“Since the start of fighting four days ago, most of the 6,000 civilians in Yarmuk camp have been forcibly displaced to the neighbouring area of Yalda,” he said.

“The last functioning hospital inside Yarmuk, Palestine Hospital, is now completely unable to operate,” Gunness said.

He called on all sides to allow civilians to leave safely, for the sick and wounded to be evacuated, and for safe access for humanitarian workers to distribute food and medicine.

Yarmuk was once a densely populated and thriving district of the capital, but it has been ravaged by violence since Syria’s conflict broke out in 2011.

Syria’s government imposed a crippling siege on it in 2012, and fighting among rebels and rival jihadists has exhausted residents.

In 2015, IS overran most of Yarmuk, and the small numbers of other rebels and jihadists, including from Al-Qaeda’s former affiliate, that had a presence there agreed to withdraw just a few weeks ago.

Simultaneously, the Syrian army was finishing off the last rebel pockets in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus that had been the opposition’s main bastion near the capital.

Securing Eastern Ghouta has allowed the regime to refocus on Yarmuk, but the escalating shelling has sparked worries among humanitarian organisations.

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