Middle East

Syria crisis: Ceasefire agreed for Yarmouk refugee camp

File photo: Residents walk as they receive aid at the Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk, south of Damascus 20 May 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Yarmouk has been besieged for nearly a year and faces severe food shortages

The Syrian government and rebel groups have reportedly agreed a truce in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk.

A copy of the ceasefire deal, seen by the BBC, says the main entrances to the camp in Damascus will be opened and basic services will be restored.

About 18,000 people have been besieged since last July. Rights groups say more than 100 people have starved to death.

Syria has been engulfed in a bloody conflict between government and rebel forces over the past three years.

The ceasefire is said to include the Syrian regime, rebel groups based in Yarmouk and many Palestinian factions, Sana news agency reports.

It is not clear when the truce will begin. Previous truces have been broken.

'Suffering of civilians'

Both food and medicine are in scarce supply in Yarmouk and large parts of the suburb lie in utter ruin, the BBC's chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet reports.

For the last two weeks, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been unable to distribute food because of continued clashes and shelling, our correspondent adds.

Image copyright Moose Campbell
Image caption The once vibrant Palestinian community has become a symbol of suffering in Syria

Analysis: Lyse Doucet, BBC chief international correspondent

Yarmouk has become a symbol of suffering in Syria. This once vibrant Palestinian community has been targeted by a punishing government siege, and rivalry among numerous Syrian and Palestinian armed groups.

We saw, on the two occasions this year we managed to enter the besieged area, how desperate conditions are.

Nearly 18,000 people are struggling to survive, without basic necessities, under constant shelling and sniper fire.

On our last visit in May, Syrian military officers told us they expected to reach an agreement soon. UN officials also spoke of possible positive change.

It's taken weeks longer than expected. But the document I've seen sets out a complicated deal.

If all the parties to this conflict stick to their agreement to keep this southern gateway to Damascus both neutral and peaceful, it will be a major achievement, and rare good news for the long suffering people of Yarmouk.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the agency had received "credible information about an agreement signed yesterday between Syrian authorities and armed opposition groups inside Yarmouk".

"We would welcome any durable and binding agreement that achieves a cessation of hostilities, full humanitarian access and an end to the suffering of civilians in Yarmouk and all of Syria," he added.

The camp, first built for Palestinians fleeing the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, became the focus of heavy fighting in late 2012 when armed opposition groups moved in.

Government forces cut off the rebel-held camp in July 2013, trapping the refugees and some Syrians.