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Syria warplanes in action, camp residents flee: NGO
by Staff Writers
Beirut (AFP) Dec 17, 2012

Syria hits back at UN over Palestinian refugees
Damascus (AFP) Dec 17, 2012 - Syria on Monday hit back at the United Nations over the fate of Palestinian refugees after UN chief Ban Ki-moon voiced "grave concern" following a deadly air strike on Yarmuk camp in southern Damascus.

"The United Nations and international community are responsible for the frustrations of the Palestinians because they have not implemented UN resolutions related to their legitimate rights," Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said.

"Syria offered something to our Palestinian brothers decades ago that no other Arab host country has offered," he told Ban in a telephone call, quoted by state news agency SANA.

The foreign minister was referring to the granting of equal social rights and to living conditions in Syria's Palestinian refugee camps, long considered the best in the region.

Sunday's air strike on Yarmuk carried out by the Syrian military was the first against the country's Palestinian refugee camps, whose residents are divided over the 21-month conflict between rebels and regime forces.

Clashes since Sunday have pitted the pro-regime Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command against rebel fighters, some of them also Palestinians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan said on Monday that street battles between the PFLP-GC and insurgents in Yarmuk had "forced the army to intervene with air attacks on the positions of the gunmen."

Ban said the air attack on Sunday on Yarmuk camp was "a matter of grave concern," as activists said at least eight people were killed, and he warned both sides that attacks on civilians could amount to "war crimes".

"The secretary general is alarmed by the continued dramatic escalation of violence in Syria over the past several days, and the grave danger facing civilians in areas under fire," said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

Muallem said the jihadist Al-Nusra Front had entered the camp with artillery and attacked a hospital.

Washington last week blacklisted Al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organisation. Originally known for its deadly car bombings, the hardline group has become one of the most effective rebel forces on frontlines across Syria.

According to Muallem, the fighting in Yarmuk was between "terrorist groups receiving financial support and arms from some neighbouring countries and the popular committees of the PFLP-GC".

"Be careful, Palestinian brothers," the foreign minister warned. "Do not harbour or assist these terrorist groups who are alien to the camp, but work to expel them."

He stressed that "the Palestinian cause, the legitimate rights of her people and liberation of the occupied territories are the goals that Syria is struggling to achieve."

Residents of a Palestinian camp in Damascus were fleeing on Monday amid fresh clashes, as Syrian warplanes raided the eastern outskirts of the city to try to quash the rebellion in the capital, a watchdog said.

Clashes in the Yarmuk refugee camp pitted pro-regime Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) against rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

On Sunday unprecedented air strikes on the camp in southern Damascus killed eight civilians, the Observatory said.

But on Monday the pro-regime daily Al-Watan said street battles between the PFLP-GC and rebels had "forced the army to intervene with warplane attacks on the positions of the gunmen."

Residents and the Britain-based Observatory said people in the camp were fleeing en masse on Monday morning for other parts of Damascus, while others scrambled to find safety in safer parts of Yarmuk.

East of the capital, warplanes attacked the Eastern Ghuta region, while smoke was seen rising from nearby Zamalka, which was also raided by jets, the Observatory said.

Military reinforcements were seen travelling from Mazzeh military airport west of Damascus to Daraya farther south, where two rebels were reportedly killed trying to hold back a new assault amid shelling attacks.

"It is a tragic situation today in Daraya. The shelling from Mazzeh airport has not stopped since the morning, and there are fierce clashes on all fronts," local activist Abu Kinan told AFP via Skype, adding that six tanks rolled into the central area of Shameyat.

"We are worried the army will keep bringing reinforcements and abuse the people when they enter," said Abu Kinan.

Around 8,000 residents were trapped in Daraya and "cannot escape because there are snipers at all of the exits," he added.

Video footage showed the Abu Suleiman mosque being pounded by shelling, as billowing clouds of smoke rose to the sky, in what Daraya activists said was the second such attack on the place of worship.

The video could not be immediately verified.

The scene of the bloodiest massacre in the 21-month conflict, Daraya has been under siege by the army for a month and suffered ongoing shelling by troops trying to seize full control.

In the central province of Hama, heavy fighting erupted in Halfaya as rebels attacked army checkpoints and troops shelled the town, where 23 people, mostly civilians, died in clashes and bombardments on Sunday, the Observatory said.

In the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, warplanes raided several towns as insurgents laid siege to the military airbase of the provincial capital.

Fierce clashes also rocked the Handara area in the northern province of Aleppo on Monday, a day after rebels scored a victory taking control of a major infantry academy nearby.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground in compiling its tolls, said 42 people were killed nationwide on Monday, among them seven civilians, a day after 160 died.


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