BEIRUT – Thousands of residents were fleeing a densely populated Palestinian district outside Damascus on Monday amid rumors that Syrian government forces were massing and poised to attack.
Syrian authorities say cadres of “terrorists” – the government’s designation for the country’s rebels – have infiltrated the Yarmouk camp, a sprawling urban enclave on the southern fringes of the capital. Yarmouk is home to about 300,000 people, half of them of Palestinian origin.
Opposition activists said Syrian warplanes attacked the camp Sunday, killing at least eight people, including several outside a mosque. The incident marked the first time Yarmouk was targeted in an aerial bombardment, the opposition said.
Gunfire and shelling Sunday killed at least a dozen other people, activists said, in what appeared to be the bloodiest day in Yarmouk since the start of the 21-month-old rebellion against President Bashar Assad.
On Monday, rumors of an impending government assault sent many Yarmouk residents scrambling for safety in other Damascus-area neighborhoods, the United Nations said. At least 2,000 others fled to nearby Lebanon.
“There were rumors that the regime forces are giving people a deadline of 6 o’clock in the evening to leave the place,” said one Yarmouk resident, a student, 22, who arrived in Lebanon on Monday but didn’t want his name used for security reasons.
The U.N. issued a statement Monday saying it was “gravely concerned” about the safety of Palestinian refugees in Syria. It appealed to all sides in the conflict “to refrain from actions that endanger civilian lives and property.”