Middle East

PLO rejects Syrian military action in Yarmouk camp

Bomb-damaged buildings in Yarmouk camp, Damascus (9 April 2015) Image copyright AP
Image caption UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Yarmouk was "beginning to resemble a death camp"

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has ruled out asking the Syrian government to launch military action in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus.

A statement issued late on Thursday contradicted comments made by a senior PLO official visiting Damascus.

Ahmed Majdalani said 14 Palestinian factions wanted a joint operation with the Syrian army to expel Islamic State (IS) militants from the camp.

But the PLO statement said it refused to be drawn into the conflict in Syria.

IS has almost completely overrun Yarmouk, where about 18,000 people have been besieged for more than two years, since launching an assault on 1 April.

'Deepest circle of hell'

On Thursday afternoon, Mr Majdalani announced that Palestinian factions had agreed that there could be no political solution to the situation in Yarmouk.

He said they would set up a joint operations room with the Syrian government to oversee a co-ordinated, step-by-step military solution aimed at driving IS militants out while trying to safeguard the lives and property of civilians trapped there.

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Media captionEarlier this week BBC Arabic's Assaf Abboud visited the centre of Yarmouk to find its battered streets deserted and silent

Hours later, the PLO issued a statement from its headquarters in Ramallah stressing that it refused to "drag our people and their camps into the hellish conflict that is taking place in Syria".

"We refuse to be drawn into any armed campaign, whatever its nature or cover, and we call for resorting to other means to spare the blood of our people and prevent more destruction and displacement for our people of the camp," it said.

Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, the main Palestinian militia fighting IS in Yarmouk, has been co-operating with Syrian rebels battling both government forces and Islamic State.

The United Nations has said it is extremely concerned about the safety of Palestinians and Syrians trapped inside the camp, who have suffered chronic food shortages and limited medical care because of a government siege to force rebels sheltering there to surrender.

"In the horror that is Syria, the Yarmouk refugee camp is the deepest circle of hell," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday.

"A refugee camp is beginning to resemble a death camp. The residents of Yarmouk - including 3,500 children - are being turned into human shields."

He warned that any "massive assault on the camp and all civilians would be yet one more outrageous war crime for which those responsible must be held accountable".

"We simply cannot stand by and watch a massacre unfold," he added.