Syria government, rebels reach evacuation deal in southern Damascus: State media

UNRWA concerned over fate of refugees in Yarmuk camp

The source said that army units continued operations against the gatherings and hotbeds of terrorist organizations at the southern outskirts of Damascus, seizing control of al-Mazniyeh, al-Qadam, al-Asali, and al-Joura neighborhoods after destroying the terrorists' fortified positions and inflicting heavy losses upon them in personnel and weaponry.

The announcement comes almost two weeks into the government's campaign to oust Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) group fighters from the capital's southern suburbs, including the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk. Rebels in the area say however that there has been no significant push inside Hajar al-Aswad or the camp, despite hundreds of strikes.

"Yarmouk was a refugee camp that had already been transformed into a death camp, and even in that state it has just experienced a week of really intense fighting", said Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), the agency for Palestinian refugees.

Fighting in the camp broke out in 2013 as some Palestinian factions sided with the Syrian regime and others with the rebels.

The camp has been under siege by the army since rebels captured it in 2012.

The Yarmouk campaign is part of a wider Russian-backed offensive to regain the last pocket in opposition hands around the capital after retaking eastern Ghouta this month.

More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011 with a deadly crackdown on anti-government protests.

The Palestinian refugee population of Yarmouk had dwindled from around 160,000 in 2011 to just 6,000 last month, according to United Nations estimates. Since then most of the residents have left and UNRWA estimated that before the latest round of fighting about 6,000 people remained there. There is also unspecified number of civilians besieged in Yarmouk and in desperate need of a safe passage out of the camp.

Following the announcement, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir said: "UNRWA is playing a vital role in providing basic needs and social services for Palestine refugees".

The agency has been suffering a severe funding shortfall after the Trump administration cut around $300m (€247m) earlier this year. UNRWA, the U.N body responsible for Palestinian refugees, has called on warring parties to spare civilians. Around 120,000 have fled overseas, including 32,500 to Lebanon and 17,000 to Jordan, according to Unrwa.

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