April 26, 2018 / 8:02 PM / 9 months ago

'Doomsday' as Syrian air strikes pound camp south of capital

BEIRUT (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - After fleeing a besieged Syrian refugee camp south of Damascus last week, Fatimah watches the “devastation” from her window in a neighboring town as air strikes pound the brutal place - without running water or medicine - that was her home for years.

The army on Thursday intensified its bombardment of Yarmouk, Syria’s biggest camp for Palestinian refugees as well as displaced Syrians, and nearby areas, in a bid to capture the last area near the capital outside government control.

“We lived through sieges, shelling, and devastation, but we haven’t seen anything like this,” Fatimah, a 20-year-old Syrian mother who declined to give her real name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Yalda.

“The airstrikes are non-stop.”

The area has been besieged by pro-government forces since the early days of the seven-year-old civil war that has killed more than 500,000 people and driven more than half of Syrians from their homes.

Fatimah was among some 5,000 civilians who have fled to nearby Yalda since fighting escalated last week, according to UNRWA, the United Nations agency that cares for Palestinian refugees.

“Those families who managed to take refuge in Yalda have been forced to sleep in the streets or in makeshift shelters,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement, adding that the checkpoint into the area is closed to civilians and goods.

Another Yalda resident, Rami Alsayed, said by phone he had never witnessed such destruction.

“It is doomsday, everything is destroyed,” he said.

“It is a very tragic situation.”

At least 19 civilians have been killed and 150 injured since the campaign began, with about 1,500 families remaining inside Yarmouk, sources inside the camp and a former resident said.

The United Nations called on the warring parties to spare civilians, as state media showed footage of a ground assault, led by tanks, adjacent to Yarmouk camp. Aerial strikes and bombardment have pounded residential areas for days.

Fatimah has taken sanctuary in a relative’s house with her husband and two daughters, aged two and six months, but she cannot escape the violent sounds of war.

“The sound of the jet is so close it feels like it is going straight through your house. The airstrikes are happening right next to you,” she said.

“The kids are very tired and anxious from not sleeping. They don’t understand what is going on - they are scared. I know what’s going on, and I am even scared.”

Reporting by Heba Kanso @hebakanso, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org

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