Israeli convicted of Palestinian murder that helped trigger 2014 war

AFP reports: The Israeli ringleader in the beating and burning alive of a Palestinian teenager in 2014 has been convicted of his murder.

Yosef Haim Ben David, 31, was found in November to have led the assault, but a verdict was delayed after his lawyers submitted last-minute documents saying he suffered from mental illness.

The court ruling on Tuesday said that Ben David “was not psychotic, fully understood the facts, was responsible for his actions, had no difficulty in understanding reality and had the capacity to prevent the crime”.

A sentencing hearing has been set for 3 May.

The family of the teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, welcomed the decision but said they hoped judges followed through with a life sentence for Ben David.

At the hearing Mohammed’s mother wore a heart-shaped pendant containing an image of her son wearing a baseball cap, and his father said the decision “should have been made a long time ago”.

“We knew that he wasn’t mad,” Hussein Abu Khdeir told Agence France-Presse. “It was all a big lie to get off from the crime which he carried out. Even if they sentence him for life, this will never bring Mohammed back again. Our hearts are wounded from what happened.”

In February, a court sentenced Ben David’s two young Israeli accomplices to life and 21 years in prison for the killing, which was part of a spiral of violence in the run-up to the 2014 Gaza war. [Continue reading…]

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‘Desperate’ Palestinian refugees starve as battle rages in Damascus

The Guardian reports: Thousands of civilians are trapped in “desperate” humanitarian conditions in a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus where fighting has been raging for days between Islamic State fighters and other extremists, the UN has warned.

UNRWA, the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees, said at the weekend that up to 10,000 residents of the Yarmouk camp in the south of the Syrian capital have gone without food or water for more than a week.

“Civilians in Yarmouk are facing starvation and dehydration alongside the heightened risks of serious injury and death from the armed conflict,” said Christopher Gunness, a UNRWA spokesman. People are trapped in their homes, hunkered down to avoid being hit by bullets and shrapnel, he added.

The camp, a sprawling urban neighbourhood that was once home to 150,000 people, has been ravaged by fighting between Isis and al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, al-Nusra Front, while government forces regularly shell it from outside. “Whatever supplies of food and water they had have long been exhausted,” Gunness said. [Continue reading…]

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One Palestinian village’s death by a thousand cuts

Joseph Dana writes: My first visit to the village of Al Walaja in 2009 was little more than an afterthought. Having spent most of the day in Bethlehem monitoring Israeli settlement encroachment around the hilltop city, a friend suggested we stop by Al Walaja on our way back to Jerusalem. A non-violent protest movement was taking shape in the village.

Al Walaja sits above a neatly terraced hillside, close to Jerusalem’s southern edge. From the verandas of village homes, you can see Malha Mall and Teddy football stadium, home to the ultranationalist Beitar Jerusalem team. Over the past decade, the Israeli military has aggressively pushed for the creation of its separation barrier on Al Walaja’s border as part of a larger plan to remove Palestinian villages from the Jerusalem municipality.

The pattern is simple: put the village on the West Bank side of the wall, declare a new city boundary, and get rid of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Jerusalemites.

Al Walaja is unique given its proximity to both Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The plans for the barrier, which have been partially carried out, effectively turn Al Walaja into an open-air prison by encircling the village with an eight-metre high concrete wall and a series of fences. Last week, Israeli bulldozers, accompanied by soldiers, entered the village under the cover of darkness and destroyed three homes for “lacking building permits”. [Continue reading…]

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From Israeli jail, Marwan Barghouti initiates ‘nonviolent’ bid to ‘free Palestine’

The Times of Israel reports: A group of people close to leading Fatah activist Marwan Barghouti, jailed in Israel for murder, have reached an understanding with the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaderships overseas on a comprehensive plan to jointly campaign against the Israeli occupation until it is brought to an end, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel.

The plan includes unprecedented steps within the framework of what is dubbed “nonviolent resistance” which, the sources predicted, could prove immensely problematic for Israel. The goal is to force Israel out of all areas beyond the pre-1967 lines via a nonviolent intifada coordinated by a unified Palestinian leadership under Barghouti, who has been jailed by Israel since 2002 after being sentenced to five life sentences for involvement in murder.

The contacts were managed secretly in meetings that took place over recent months by four senior Fatah officials: Barghouti, Qadura Fares, Sarhan Davikat, and Mohammed Horani. All of them were considered senior members of the Palestinian Tanzim organization during the 90s and the latter three are known to be personal friends of Barghouti. Bargouti also intends to run for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority in the next elections, and even has Hamas support for the move, the sources said.

The four met with all of the Hamas leadership, including Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’s political wing, who is based in Doha, Qatar. Afterwards, they continued with meetings in Istanbul with the participation of Hamas leaders Moussa Abu Marzouk, Salah al-Aruri – considered to be behind many terror attacks against Israeli targets in the West Bank and in Israel – Osama Hamdan, Husam Badran and others. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS and Nusra put Yarmouk civilians in line of fire

Al Jazeera reports: Deadly fighting between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the al-Nusra Front has put civilians, mostly Palestinian refugees, in danger yet again in the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus.

Issam, a 54-year-old resident of Yarmouk, said that civilians have called for a temporary humanitarian ceasefire from the armed groups but have yet to receive a response.

“There is not a piece of bread left in this camp,” he told Al Jazeera by telephone while the sound of gunfire rang out behind him. “There isn’t medicine or water for drinking.” [Continue reading…]

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Barack Obama: Israel’s most loyal protector

Lara Friedman writes: With the Obama administration in its final year, several officials have said that the president has grown so frustrated with trying to revive Middle East peace talks that he may lay down his own outline for an Israeli-Palestinian two-state peace agreement, in the form of a resolution in the United Nations Security Council.

If that happens, count on two reactions: Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will oppose it, and a chorus of American politicians and commentators will suggest that it would be unprecedented — even unthinkable — for an American president to support a Security Council resolution that Israel opposed, rather than veto it.

Last spring, when similar reports circulated, Senator John McCain of Arizona said that such an action would “contradict American policy for the last at least 10 presidents of the United States.” The Republican chairman and ranking Democrat of the House Foreign Affairs Committee joined in a letter protesting that “for decades the U.S. has used its U.N. Security Council veto to protect Israel from undue pressure at the world body.” A bipartisan group of senators agreed, seeking assurances that the policy would not change.

Remarkably, the assumption beneath those protests — that President Obama would be committing an unprecedented betrayal of the American-Israeli relationship if he did not block every Security Council resolution that challenged the actions or positions of Israel’s government — has gone unchallenged.

Yet it flies in the face of truth. Over seven years, Mr. Obama has not permitted passage of any Security Council resolution specifically critical of Israel. But a careful examination of the record shows that, since 1967, every other American president allowed, or even had America vote for, Security Council resolutions taking Israel to task for actions and policies toward the Palestinians and other Arab neighbors. [Continue reading…]

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Sanders: ‘You can’t just be concerned about Israel’s needs. You have to be concerned about the needs of all of the people of the region.’

Think Progress reports: Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke out on Sunday against Israel’s military response during the 2014 war with Gaza, calling the country’s actions “disproportionate.”

Sanders, who is the first Jewish candidate in U.S. history to win a major presidential primary, discussed the seven-week armed conflict between Israeli and Gazan forces during a taped interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“Was Israel’s response disproportionate? I think it was,” Sanders said. The 2014 conflict, which was sparked after Hamas forces in Gaza launched rockets into southern Israel, resulted in the deaths of more than 2,130 Palestinians — 70 percent of whom were civilians, according to the United Nations. Israel, which lost 65 soldiers and 3 civilians in the fighting, claims only 50 percent of Palestinians killed were civilians. [Continue reading…]

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With demolitions, Israel tightens squeeze on West Bank Palestinians

Reuters reports: In the past three months, the Israeli military has more than tripled its demolitions of Palestinian structures in the occupied West Bank, United Nations’ figures show, raising alarm among diplomats and human rights groups over what they regard as a sustained violation of international law.

Figures collated by the U.N.’s office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA), which operates in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, show that from an average of 50 demolitions a month in 2012-2015, the average has risen to 165 a month since January, with 235 demolitions in February alone.

The Israeli military, which has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Middle East war, says it carries out the demolitions because the structures are illegal: they were either built without a permit, in a closed military area or firing zone, or violate other planning and zoning restrictions.

The U.N. and rights groups point out that permits are almost impossible for Palestinians to acquire, that firing zones are often declared but seldom used, and that many planning restrictions date from the British Mandate in the 1930s.

“It is a very marked and worrying increase,” said Catherine Cook, an OCHA official based in Jerusalem who closely monitors the demolitions, describing the situation as the worst since the U.N. body started collecting figures in 2009.

“The hardest hit are Bedouin and Palestinian farming communities who are at risk of forcible transfer, which is a clear violation of international law.” [Continue reading…]

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Is Mohammed Dahlan likely to replace Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian leader?

Adnan Abu Amer writes: The most important world capitals that provided Dahlan with this regional and international network are Cairo and Abu Dhabi, where Dahlan enjoys undeniable influence since he is considered the security adviser of UAE’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. This position has provided Dahlan with influence that many UAE officials may not enjoy within the state.

Dahlan also enjoys considerable influence in Egypt through his direct ties with Sisi, which allows him to influence Egyptian media. In addition, he has been deploying efforts to buy some news websites in Jordan.

Ahmed Youssef, former political adviser to former Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, told Al-Monitor, “Dahlan is welcomed on the regional and international levels. As long as elections are not the only criterion on the Palestinian scene — in light of regional and international pressure to export this leader and sideline others — Dahlan may have better chances at accessing high Palestinian positions than others. This is considering Israel’s [relative] satisfaction with him and his special ties with the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Syrian opposition. The international relations that a Palestinian official has may allow him to climb to rungs of the leadership ladder.” [Continue reading…]

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Leahy asked State Dept. to investigate Israel and Egypt’s human rights ‘violations’

Politico reports: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and 10 House members have asked the Obama administration to investigate claims that the Israeli and Egyptian security forces have committed “gross violations of human rights” — allegations that if proven truei could affect U.S. military aid to the countries.

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry dated Feb. 17, the lawmakers list several examples of suspected human rights abuses, including reports of extrajudicial killings by Israeli and Egyptian military forces, as well as forced disappearances in Egypt. The letter also points to the 2013 massacre in Egypt’s Rab’aa Square, which left nearly 1,000 people dead as the military cracked down on protesters, as worthy of examination.

Leahy’s signature is particularly noteworthy because his name is on a law that conditions U.S. military aid to countries on whether their security forces are committing abuses. [Continue reading…]

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Soldier’s shooting of Palestinian sets off uproar in Israel

The Associated Press reports: Amateur video appearing to show an Israeli soldier killing an already wounded Palestinian attacker sparked uproar in Israel on Sunday, reflecting the deep divisions in the country following six months of violence.

As the Israeli military pressed on with an investigation, nationalistic politicians accused the army of abandoning the soldier, while political doves bemoaned the erosion of the nation’s morals. Palestinians, meanwhile, said the shooting proved their claims that Israel is guilty of using excessive force and carrying out extrajudicial killings.

The shooting took place last Thursday in Hebron, the volatile West Bank city that has been a focal point of the latest wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The military said two Palestinians stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops shot and killed the pair. [Continue reading…]

Human Rights Watch reports: The B’Tselem volunteer who filmed the video, Imad Abu Shamsiyyeh, told Human Rights Watch in a phone interview that Israeli forces had threatened him both at the scene and later, when he went to give a statement to the military. A few minutes after he filmed the shooting from the roof of a nearby building, he said, “more journalists gathered on the roof, and the Israeli soldiers noticed us. They pointed their guns at us and screamed at us to get down. Soldiers came into the building and told the [owner] not to allow people there or the family would pay the price.”

Abu Shamsiyyeh said that after B’Tselem shared the video with military investigators, the military asked him to give a statement. During questioning at a military office in Hebron, Abu Shamsiyyeh said he felt the interrogator was trying to intimidate him to make him say that he had not filmed the video:

He told me, ‘How will you benefit from this video? It got a lot of publicity. Your name is known to everyone. Who is going to protect you and your family from right-wing Israelis? Remember you live in [Tel Rumeida], surrounded by Israeli settlers, who will be able to protect you there?’ I felt that I was being threatened. They took the original footage from me.

Abu Shamsiyyeh said he had received two phone calls on March 24 from a Hebrew-speaker, calling from a private number, but did not understand what was said. “I feel in danger and my children are afraid,” Abu Shamsiyyeh told Human Rights Watch. “I’m not letting them out of the house. I’m afraid of walking in the street.” [Continue reading…]

Anshel Pfeffer writes: It was a moment made for television. Abed Fatah al-Sharif could be seen lying on the ground in Hebron, after he and a friend had been shot while trying to stab Israeli soldiers. Still moving, 21­-year-old Sharif lay there without receiving medical attention for several minutes, until a helmeted Israeli soldier, in the presence of his officers, walked up and shot him in the head.

Just like that – what looks like a summary execution in the middle of the day, on camera.

You would have expected the killing of Sharif to be headline news around the world, not only an internal debate over the battlefield morals of the Israel Defense Forces, as it has in the last four days. The IDF Spokesman Unit was prepared for a media onslaught, notified in advance through operational channels of the incident.

By the time the footage, taken by a field worker of human rights NGO B’Tselem, landed in the journalists’ inboxes, a statement had already been prepared announcing that the soldier had been arrested and his actions, which were contrary to “the IDF’s values,” were under criminal investigation. It took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a few hours but eventually he came out with a similar statement, distancing the IDF and its values from what was seen on the screen.

But as far as the foreign media was concerned, they need not have bothered. The foreign correspondents stationed in Israel dutifully filed their reports, but in a week in which Europe was still in shock from the devastating Brussels attacks their story barely had a chance. Add to the continent’s news agenda that day the conviction in The Hague of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for charges of genocide and the American media’s preoccupation with Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency as well as with their current president, Barack Obama, watching baseball in Cuba and doing the tango in Argentina, while trying to get as far as possible from the Middle East.

When the officials in charge of Israel’s global PR saw on Friday the daily summaries of the previous 24 hours in the world media, they heaved a sigh of relief. With the exception of Al Jazeera, the Hebron killing didn’t feature prominently on any of the main news channels, in the news bulletins of major networks or on the front pages of influential newspapers. It was relegated deep in to the inside pages and low down on the websites’ home pages.

“My report got quite a lot of clicks” said one reporter for a top news-site. ”But it didn’t make it into our top-ten news stories. There was just way too much happening elsewhere.” And if the media isn’t interested, then foreign politicians and diplomats won’t be making much of a fuss either. Perhaps even if it hadn’t taken place on a such a heavy news day we may have been surprised at the relatively low level of international media interest. After all, the global audience has become inured in the last three years to much more distressing images of ISIS beheadings, immolations and explosions of prisoners.

The improved professionalism in recent years of the IDF Spokesman’s Unit’s foreign media branch also played a role. They didn’t try to duck the issue or stonewall the reporters. Any hint of a cover up would probably have generated a few more headlines. But then after all, the world has also grown sick of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and hardly expects better of us anymore.

Some Israelis are certainly happy that the world has more burning issues to deal with and may even be experiencing a feeling of schadenfreude that this time the Europeans have too many dead bodies of their own to be interested in those here. Not only is such an attitude ugly and callous, but Israelis may find that living in one of the areas where the world media has lost interest in its cruelties is not such a great a thing, even if the coverage is sometimes biased and disproportional.

A world which is no longer shocked by Israeli cruelty towards Palestinians probably won’t be that excited when the cruelty goes the other way either. [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu’s toxic embrace with Israel

spent-force

Nicola Abé reports: Even though this new wave of violence has been underway since October, Netanyahu has been unable to do anything about it or bring peace to his country. Some would argue that his record is disastrous, and that the tense situation would harm his popularity, but the opposite has been true. Last year, Netanyahu expanded his power even further, simply claiming a number of ministries for himself. Now, in addition to being prime minister, he is also foreign minister, economy minister, communication minister and regional development minister. He has installed allies in the media, in the police force and in the judiciary. It’s as if Netanyahu is in a toxic embrace with his country.

During a state trip last fall, Netanyahu’s official plane flew through heavy, dark clouds, with the fasten seatbelt sign on. Just as the aircraft entered severe turbulence, Netanyahu appeared in the rear section of the aircraft, where the journalists sat. He wanted to give a background talk at that very moment. He had a full 12 hours to speak, but he only chose to do so a few minutes prior to landing.

As a hurricane-like storm brewed, the journalists clung to their seats. It was the middle of the night in Jerusalem and Netanyahu spoke with them about Syria and Iraq. He had dark circles under his eyes and unkempt hair. His words essentially amounted to nothing.

The plane swayed back and forth. His press spokesman then pulled at his sleeve, trying to get him to sit down. The aircraft hit an air pocket, but Netanyahu didn’t flinch. This was and is his message. He stages politics as a never-ending dance at the brink of an abyss — in which he constantly remains in control. This catastrophic backdrop allows Netanyahu to appear both as victim and savior. He turns everything into an existential question, because he derives his power from the existential.

“The survival mode is in the Israeli DNA,” says journalist Nahum Barnea of Yedioth Ahronoth, one of the country’s biggest daily newspapers. He has followed Netanyahu for years. “He plays the type who holds the dam together.” [Continue reading…]

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American graduate student killed in stabbing rampage near Tel Aviv

The New York Times reports: A Palestinian on a stabbing rampage on Tuesday along a coastal promenade near Tel Aviv killed an American combat veteran who was a graduate student at Vanderbilt University.

The attacks occurred along a popular seaside boulevard in Jaffa, about a mile away from where Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was meeting with a former president of Israel, Shimon Peres.

The stabbing attacks, carried out over 20 minutes, came just after Mr. Biden arrived for a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. He is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday.

The American was identified as Taylor Force, 28, a first-year M.B.A. student at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt, the university said in a statement. He was one of 29 students from the graduate school on a trip to Israel to learn about global entrepreneurship, according to a news release from Vanderbilt. The rest of the students, as well as the four faculty and staff members that accompanied them, were safe, it said. [Continue reading…]

Last October, following a knife attack on an Israeli policeman by a 19-year-old Palestinian, Mohammed Ali, Peter Beaumont wrote: How violence plays out in conflict –the weapons used, how attacks are executed and organised and who takes part and against what targets – are indicative of more than simply the act of killing or attempted killing. While the first Palestinian intifada was defined in the popular imagination as the “stone-throwing intifada” and the second as a conflict of suicide bombings and gun attacks, the new surge in violence has been so closely associated with knife attacks that on social media some have dubbed it the “knife intifada”.

At the entrance to the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem where Ali lived, three burned-out, overturned cars – part of a recent barricade – lie facing the Israeli police at the checkpoint in the wall that seals off the camp. The house where Ali’s male relatives are sitting in mourning is deep within the camp’s narrow lanes. They have not yet received his body for burial. His uncles, Assad Mohammed Ali and Mahmoud, tell a story familiar to those who have done these rounds of questioning before. Their nephew, they say, was a popular and happy youth. He had no problems – except he was angry at the Israeli occupation, and in particular at Israeli actions around the flashpoint religious site of the al-Aqsa mosque. So far, so familiar.

“We have a new generation,” another relative standing on a stairs above the uncles interjects, unwilling to be identified. “They are smart and clever. They can’t sustain the humiliation. They think: if you are going to kill us in the end, we should attack first. You have to understand that this generation is well educated. It is well informed and globalised. They can’t be fooled, like we were fooled in the old days. They have their own way of finding out what is going on. Social media and the internet are educating them.”

Asked about why this episode is different from the first and second intifadas, in the weapons of choice and the organisation or lack of it, Assad Mohammed Ali says: “This is a pure intifada. It is pure because it is about individuals’ personal motivation. They are the ones who sparked it.” The other uncle adds: “The last ones were political. This is not political; it is spontaneous.”

Assad Mohammed Ali adds that, confronted with what has been happening at al-Aqsa – with the fatal shootings of Palestinian teenagers – “kids started carrying knives” and his nephew was among them. He suggests a widespread and fatalistic anticipation of death. “When a person thinks death may be imposed, then he wants to die in a heroic way.” He mentions two men from the camp who were killed last year. “The new generation wants to try and imitate them.” [Continue reading…]

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Israel employs legal principle of collective punishment used by Nazi Germany

In an editorial, Haaretz says: Over the past few months, Israel has adopted the principle known in German as sippenhaft – meaning a family’s shared responsibility for a crime committed by one of its members. Its origins lie in ancient times, when an offender’s entire tribe would be punished for his crimes. In the modern era, this principle was characteristic of totalitarian regimes, when the relatives of “enemies of the state” were punished by exile, imprisonment or execution. Today, this method is common in North Korea.

The Netanyahu government’s response to shooting, knifing and car-ramming attacks is based on the same principle: The family that “supports and assists” the terrorist, as Netanyahu put it, is as guilty of terror as the offender. That is why house demolitions have been renewed. According to figures by the nonprofit B’Tselem, 31 Palestinian homes have been demolished whose relatives were involved in attacks, with other demolitions planned. That is also why Israel is holding the bodies of attackers from East Jerusalem and punishing their families by delaying burials. Israeli advocates of sippenhaft argue that it’s the only way to deter the Palestinians, citing cases in which families gave up suspects as proof that the method works. To them, the deportation of families to Gaza seems the ultimate weapon against lone-wolf attacks.

But the Palestinians are not the only ones who’ll pay the price for punishing the families; Israel will, too. Because a state that adopts the legal methods and laws of totalitarian states begins to look like those countries, even if it calls itself “the only democracy in the Middle East.” [Continue reading…]

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Beyond Yarmouk, Palestinians in Syria need aid

Al Jazeera reports: The United Nations has called for immediate and sustained humanitarian access in the Deraa and Damascus areas of war-torn Syria, where more than 20,000 Palestinian refugees live.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), said an estimated 17,500 Palestinians remained “inaccessible” in the Deraa province, along with another 5,000 civilians in Khan Eshieh.

“UNRWA is extremely concerned about the safety and liberty of every Palestine refugee and each of its staff,” Gunness said.

Last week, UNRWA was able to deliver aid to neighbouring areas of Yarmouk, the besieged Damascus-area camp home to both Palestinians and Syrians, for the first time in nine months.

Yet the agency has been unable to gain access to Yarmouk’s interior since late March 2015, days before the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) invaded and took control of most of the camp.

Elsewhere, UNRWA has been unable to reach camps in the Deraa area, as well as the Khan Eshieh camp in southern Damascus, for more than two years.

Al Jazeera spoke to Gunness about recent developments in Palestinian refugee camps across Syria. [Continue reading…]

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