August 16, 2011
DAMASCUS/RAMALLAH: An assault by Syrian security forces on a Palestinian refugee camp in the coastal city of Latakia amounts to a crime against humanity, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization said.
Syria came under sharp Arab and international condemnation after rights activists said gunboats pounded Latakia port, forcing thousands of Palestinians to flee a refugee camp Monday.
As activists reported new deaths at the camp, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency reported that more than 5,000 refugees had fled the Ramel camp in southern Latakia under fire Monday.
“The shelling is taking place using gunships and tanks on houses built from tin, on people who have no place to run to or even a shelter to hide in,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, the PLO secretary general, told Reuters. “This is a crime against humanity.”
Residents of Latakia say Syrian security forces have been targeting areas where demonstrators have been protesting against President Bashar Assad’s rule.
UNRWA, the U.N. agency that cares for Palestinian refugees, Tuesday said its latest reports indicated that Ramel camp, home to 10,000 refugees, was now almost completely deserted.
UNRWA reported Monday, that four refugees had been killed and 17 wounded in the violence. “Our fear is that without access, the figures are higher, but we simply don’t know,” Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesman in Jerusalem, said.
“It’s obviously been the scene of a security or military operation. We remain extremely concerned. UNRWA needs to get in there. We need urgent humanitarian access,” he said.
“Things get more and more grim and worrying by the minute. A forgotten population has now become a disappeared population,” he said.
Syria’s state-run news agency SANA reported Monday Palestinian factions condemned UNRWA’s statements, labeling the allegations “baseless” and a “provocation.”
It said the Palestinian powers’ Alliance Factions condemned allegations of shelling at the Ramel camp, “calling for not involving the Palestinians in the latest events in Syria.”
“The Palestinian factions deny what has been included in the UNRWA leadership about shelling the refugees camp in Lattakia, considering this provocation as part of attempts to harm the Syrian and Palestinian stances,” official spokesman of the Palestinian Alliance said in a press statement, published by SANA.
It said Ali Mustafa, director of the Arab Palestinian Refugees General Committee called on UNRWA Commissioner General Filippo Grandi to “correct” reports claiming that the Syrian Security forces launch heavy fires inside the camp in Lattakia.
“We would like to bring your attention that what has been included in the UNRWA statement was baseless and untrue … the issue that is being tackled by the Syrian competent authorities takes place in the camp’s neighboring area,” SANA reported Mustafa said in a message sent to Grandi.
The United States said it was unable to confirm reports of the Syrian navy shelling Latakia Monday, in what would amount to a dramatic escalation in its bid to crush pro-democracy protests.
“We have been unable to confirm actually the use of naval assets,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, adding the “jury is still out” on whether or not Syrian warships opened fire.
She added there were “some inconsistencies” in the reporting on the alleged incident but did not elaborate.
“However, we are able to confirm that there is armor in the city and that there is firing on innocents again, in the pattern of carnage that you have seen in other places,” she said.
Many residents were allowed to flee Latakia at dawn, but soldiers opened fire at a checkpoint, killing a man and a woman as they tried to leave Ramel, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.