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Syria to use military to reclaim Palestinian camp

Residents of the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, Syria, queue to receive food supplies in January last year. Conditions in the camp have deteriorated since Islamic State militants muscled their way into it in early April 2015. (AP photo/UNRWA, file)

Residents of the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, Syria, queue to receive food supplies in January last year. Conditions in the camp have deteriorated since Islamic State militants muscled their way into it in early April 2015. (AP photo/UNRWA, file)

Damascus [AFP]

Syria says a military operation is needed to expel jihadists who have overrun large parts of a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus, trapping thousands of civilians inside.

The Islamic State group’s advances in the Yarmuk camp have sparked international concern for the civilians, who have already endured repeated bombardment and an army siege of more than 18 months.

The European Union has announced additional aid for residents of the camp, saying their suffering was reaching ‘intolerable levels’ and the UN Security Council has urged a humanitarian corridor into the district.

Syria’s reconciliation minister Ali Haidar on Wednesday said the crisis required a military operation.

‘The priority now is to expel and defeat militants and terrorists in the camp,’ he said, after meeting Palestine Liberation Organisation official Ahmed Majdalani, who arrived on Tuesday from Ramallah.

‘Under the present circumstances, a military solution is necessary,’ Haidar said.

He did not spell out when a military operation might begin or how it would be waged, but suggested that Syrian troops could be involved.

‘The Syrian state will decide whether the battle requires it,’ he said.

IS forces attacked Yarmuk on April 1 and have seized control of large parts of the camp, executing Palestinian fighters.

The Syrian government and residents of the capital have been rattled by the presence of IS militants just a few kilometres from the heart of Damascus.

Once a thriving district that was home to some 160,000 Syrian and Palestinian residents, Yarmuk has been devastated by violence since late 2012.

The Syrian army imposed a tight siege on the camp that reportedly led to deaths because of shortages of food and medicines.

An agreement between rebels and the government, backed by Palestinian factions in the camp, was reached last year and led to an easing of the siege, although humanitarian access remained limited.


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