World News

Islamic State seizes most of south Damascus refugee camp: witnesses

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The hardline Islamic State group took control of large parts of a besieged Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus on Wednesday, witnesses and a monitoring group said.

The Yarmouk camp, home to up to 18,000 people, has been caught between government forces and Syrian insurgent groups including Islamic State’s rivals such as al Qaeda’s Nusra Front.

“They pushed from the Hajar Aswad area and Nusra fighters have joined them, they have pledged loyalty to Daesh,” one witness said, using an Arabic term for Islamic State.

The witness and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said clashes continued inside the devastated camp where food, medicine and water are scarce.

The Observatory said Islamic State controlled some of the main streets in the camp.

The United Nations said there had been “intensive” conflict between armed groups in the Yarmouk area since early Tuesday afternoon, and it was extremely concerned about the safety and protection of Syrian and Palestinian civilians.

“Credible information from public sources indicate that a variety of arms groups are engaged in fierce fighting in areas where Yarmouk’s 18,000 civilians, including a large number of children, reside,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said in New York.

He said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which operates in Yarmouk, was “anxiously continuing to monitor the situation closely.”

Reporting by Mariam Karouny, additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Susan Fenton, John Stonestreet and Ted Botha