Palestinian refugees

Palestinian children in Gaza City attend a rally in solidarity with Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria on Thursday. (Hatem Moussa / Associated Press / January 16, 2014)

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A food convoy was allowed into the besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria for the first time in months on Saturday after an agreement was worked out with the Syrian government and leaders in the camp.

The food was brought in by the Palestinian Authority after many previous failed attempts.

Ahmad Majdalani, a Palestinian emissary to Damascus, told reporters in Ramallah that after a Palestinian team had talked to faction leaders in the camp on Friday, it was agreed that they would guarantee a safe passage into the camp to bring in badly needed food and medicine.

It was also agreed that non-Palestinian armed groups would immediately leave the camp, whose security will remain in the hands of the Palestinian fighters only.

The agreement, coordinated with the Syrian government, also said that all sick people, the handicapped, the elderly, children, pregnant women and students in the camp would be allowed to leave and that the Syrian government would provide them with shelters in safe places.

The last time the Palestinians and the United Nations attempted to bring a food convoy into the camp, they were shot at by armed groups from inside the camp and forced to retreat.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said Friday that obstructing entry of aid convoys into the besieged camp and starving the population to death amount to war crimes.

“Over the past four months numerous attempts by the U.N. and other organizations to bring convoys of food and medical aid to malnourished children, women and elderly people close to starvation in Yarmouk, have been thwarted, and very little aid was getting through during the nine months prior to that,” she said.

“Intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance is a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” she said.

Yarmouk, south of Damascus, is the largest of the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, where more than 160,000 refugees had lived until December 2012 when most fled after armed rebel groups entered the camp and provoked Syrian government retaliation and bombardment.

Palestinian and United Nations reports said around 18,000 people remained in the camp, which came under tight Syrian army siege in September.

Majdalani said local Palestinian groups would receive the food packages and distribute them to the needy families. He criticized involving the Palestinian refugee camps in the Syrian conflict when armed opposition groups entered them in December 2012.

"Dragging the camps into the conflict at that particular time after 18 months of keeping them out of it was an attempt to involve the Palestinians in the violence in Syria," he said. "This was clearly a political act."

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Abukhater is a special correspondent.