BEIRUT - Five civilians have been killed in 24 hours in regime shelling on a southern district of Syria’s capital held by the Islamic State group, a monitor said Sunday.

Syrian troops are waging an intense bombing campaign against Yarmuk, a Palestinian refugee camp on the edge of Damascus, and nearby districts that are held by IS. An elderly man was killed Sunday in shelling on Yarmuk, and another died after he was wounded in bombardment there the previous day, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

A woman, her husband, and their child were killed in shelling in Yarmuk late Saturday, it said. “This brings to 11 the number of civilians killed since the shelling escalated on Thursday,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

The bombing and clashes continued into Sunday, Abdel Rahman said, with air strikes, artillery, and surface-to-surface missiles hitting the neighbourhood.

Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), said the bombardment had pushed most Yarmuk residents to flee their homes and put the area’s last hospital out of service. “Since the start of fighting four days ago, most of the 6,000 civilians in Yarmuk camp have been forcibly displaced to the neighbouring area of Yalda,” he said.

“The last functioning hospital inside Yarmuk, Palestine Hospital, is now completely unable to operate,” Gunness said.

He called on all sides to allow civilians to leave safely, for the sick and wounded to be evacuated, and for safe access for humanitarian workers to distribute food and medicine. Yarmuk was once a densely populated and thriving district of the capital, but it has been ravaged by violence since Syria’s conflict broke out in 2011.

Syria’s government imposed a crippling siege on it in 2012, and fighting among rebels and rival jihadists has exhausted residents. In 2015, IS overran most of Yarmuk, and the small numbers of other rebels and jihadists, including from Al-Qaeda’s former affiliate, that had a presence there agreed to withdraw just a few weeks ago.

Simultaneously, the Syrian army was finishing off the last rebel pockets in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus that had been the opposition’s main bastion near the capital.

Securing Eastern Ghouta has allowed the regime to refocus on Yarmuk, but the escalating shelling has sparked worries among humanitarian organisations.

 

Evacuated Syria rebels,

civilians head to Afrin

Syrian rebels and civilians bussed out of an area near Damascus were heading Sunday to a northwestern pocket of the country held by pro-Turkish forces, a monitor and rebel sources said.

The displacement was the result of a negotiated withdrawal of rebels from the East Qalamun area, 60 kilometres (35 miles) northeast of Syria's capital.

Under the deal, several thousand anti-government fighters and their relatives are to be granted safe passage from East Qalamun to rebel-held territory in the north.

Some were being bussed even further to the area of Afrin, a hilly enclave in northwest Syria that Ankara-backed forces captured in recent months from Kurdish fighters. Rebels said they were headed to a camp for the displaced in the area.

"There are 1,148 people on this convoy, going from the East Qalamun region to the Jandairis camp" in the Afrin region, said Abu Mahmoud, a rebel fighter responsible for the convoy's security.

He spoke to AFP near Al-Bab, a northern rebel town used as a way station for such evacuation deals in recent months. As the convoy paused outside Al-Bab at a security checkpoint, children could be seen scampering off the shabby-looking buses for a break in the sun.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said parts of the convoy were already arriving in the Afrin region. "The convoy has arrived and there are already several thousand rebels and civilians resettled in Afrin," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said. "Some are squatting in abandoned homes," he added. Tens of thousands of people were displaced by the Turkish-led assault on the Afrin region, whose small towns and villages were home to mostly Syrian Kurds.

The offensive, waged by Turkish soldiers and allied rebels, began on January 20 and eventually captured the main city of Afrin. The Observatory said dozens of civilians were killed in the push but Ankara says it avoided any civilian casualties. The resettlement of rebels and civilians to the area has prompted concerns about demographic changes, especially as much of the rhetoric around the original offensive included an ethnic dimension. Ankara has accused the Kurdish militia who once held Afrin of being "terrorists".