March 4, 2014 in Nation/World

New clashes halt aid to Damascus suburb

Weeks-old cease-fire breaks down
Albert Aji Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Residents of besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp wait to leave the camp near Damascus, Syria, in this Feb. 4 photo from Syria’s official news agency, SANA.
(Full-size photo)

DAMASCUS, Syria – Food deliveries to thousands of people living in a blockaded area in southern Damascus ground to a halt after a truce collapsed and clashes broke out between Syrian rebels and forces loyal to the government, a U.N. official and activists said on Monday.

The clashes, which erupted on Sunday afternoon and lasted until Monday morning, were the most serious violence in weeks in the Syrian capital’s Palestinian-dominated district of Yarmouk and seriously undermined a tentative truce struck there in early January.

A U.N. spokesman in Damascus, Chris Gunness, urged all parties to “immediately allow” the resumption of aid to the area, where malnutrition is rife.

The U.N. “remains deeply concerned about the desperate humanitarian situation in Yarmouk, and the fact that increasing tensions and resort to armed force have disrupted its efforts to alleviate the desperate plight of civilians,” Gunness said Monday.

Activists estimate that more than 100 people have died of hunger or hunger-related illnesses since a blockade began nearly a year ago, preventing food and medical aid from entering Yarmouk.

The halt in the food distribution in Yarmouk also underscores problems that bedevil a Feb. 22 U.N. Security Council resolution that called on warring parties to facilitate food and aid deliveries to Syrians in need.

Also Monday, presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban said presidential elections would be held on time according to the constitution. That would most probably be in the spring.

Shaaban said Syria would not accept international experts to monitor the vote.

“We are a sovereign country and we have credibility; we don’t need monitors,” she told the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV station. Shaaban had suggested earlier that the vote might not be held because of the security situation, but on Monday she said the situation on the ground was “improving” in light of the Syrian army’s successes on the battlefield. Assad’s term expires in mid-July and he has suggested he will run again. The vote must be between 60 and 90 days before that.

The latest clashes in Yarmouk sparked concerns for future aid deliveries.

“It will be like it was before. We are back to zero,” said a Yarmouk-based activist who uses the name Abu Akram.

The truce, which took months to negotiate, collapsed after rebel gunmen returned to Yarmouk on Sunday, according to activists. The rebels had withdrawn from the area about a month ago as part of the truce, replaced by a patrol of Palestinian gunmen, keeping out both rebels and fighters loyal to President Bashar Assad.

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