Yarmouk Damascus Palestinian refugee camp
Relief workers unload aid parcels to be distributed at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, in Damascus Reuters

Palestinian families in the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, which has reportedly been overrun by Islamic State (Isis) and Jabhat al-Nusra forces, are trapped in their houses by heavy shelling and clashes and face dying of starvation with no food, water or medical care, according to a Yarmouk-based NGO.

Wesam Sabaaneh, who works for the Jafra Foundation for Youth Development and Relief, told IBTimes UK that 18,000 Palestinian refugees are blocked in the camp south of the Syrian capital with no access to basic needs or medical supplies.

"IS stole all food stores and medicines in Yarmouk camp that was reserved for Palestinian civilians. The two main hospitals in the area have stopped working because of lack of medical equipment. There's no electricity in these areas," he said.

"We try to speak with these families every day but a lot of them are trapped in their houses and the streets are blocked because of the shelling and the clashes. It's difficult even to communicate with them."

"Our volunteers are inside the camp, but they cannot bring food and medicine or evacuate civilians. It's very dangerous for everybody to access the camp," Sabaaneh added.

He also reported that 150 people linked with relief organisations in Yarmouk were "arrested and kidnapped by Isis and Nusra front".

Besieged for two years

The Jafra Foundation brought water, food and relief aid to some of the 400 families (around 2,000 people) who fled the camp to Yalda, a neighbouring area which is also besieged by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. Another 150 people escaped to regime-controlled areas, according to Sabaaneh.

"We can't reach all the areas and all the families. There's very limited access because of the clashes," he said.

Yarmouk has been surrounded by either rebel forces or the Syrian army loyal to embattled Assad since the beginning of Syria's civil war.

The commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Pierre Krähenbühl said in a statement that the situation in Yarmouk is "more desperate than ever" adding adding that as of now it is "simply too dangerous to access Yarmouk".

UNRWA spokseman Christopher Gunness described the situation in the refugee camp as already catastrophic in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

"Yarmouk was already a place where women had died in childbirth for lack of medicine, where children had reportedly died of malnutrition. So things were already appalling. Last September we had the main water supply into the camp destroyed. So people are heavily dependent on the supplies of UNRWA. Things were absolutely inhumane. Yarmouk was a hell hole frankly. And with the eruption of this intense fighting, things got dramatically worse."

IS has reportedly struck an unusual allegiance with rival jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusra to wrestle control of Yarmouk from rebels loyal to Palestinian faction Hamas, which had been fighting against regime troops.

Among the groups fighting IS and Nusra are Jaysh al-Islam and Hamas-linked Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, which said in a statement that it is "confronting the barbarian attack on the Yarmouk camp by the criminal Isis and in cooperation with Nusra".

The Jafra foundation said 13 people had died in the camp because of the clashes. IS has reportedly executed seven people since it entered the camp.