UN considers evacuating Yarmouk refugee camp in IS group stronghold
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The United Nations Security Council said on Monday it would look at how to help some 18,000 Palestinian refugees and Syrian civilians in a camp largely taken over by the Islamic State group, including potential evacuation measures.
Pierre Krahenbuhl, head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), briefed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the 15-member council about Yarmouk camp on the outskirts of Damascus, just a few miles (kilometers) from President Bashar al-Assad's palace.
"What the civilians in Yarmouk are most concerned about right now is bare survival. It's as simple and straightforward as that," Krahenbuhl told reporters via video link from Jordan.
Islamic State has taken most of Yarmouk from rival groups while the Syrian army surrounds the district, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Islamic State rules swathes of Syria and Iraq and is the target of U.S.-led air strikes.
Krahenbuhl said states with influence over warring parties should push for protection of civilians and urged the council to "think about possible measures that would facilitate an orderly and safe evacuation of those who wish to leave the camp."
"That is a highly complex undertaking in an environment that is as delicate and dangerous as Yarmouk currently, but those would be concrete steps to be looked at," he said. Krahenbuhl said UNRWA had not had any contact with Islamic State militants.
The Security Council said in a statement it would "look into further measures that can be taken to help in providing the necessary protection and assistance." It called for aid access to Yarmouk and for "safe passage and evacuation of civilians."
Yarmouk became a battleground before the siege, and has been devastated by street fighting, air attacks and shelling. The United Nations said 94 civilians had made it out on Sunday, though some 3,500 children were still trapped.
The chief Palestinian delegate at the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, appealed for international help "in any form or shape" to secure a safe evacuation route for civilians out of Yarmouk.
Yarmouk was home to half a million Palestinians before the Syrian conflict began in 2011. The war has killed 220,000 people and displaced millions of Syrians.
Krahenbuhl suggested Security Council envoys visit Yarmouk because "nothing replaces seeing a situation for oneself and having to confront the realities on the ground."