ISIS fighters (file)
ISIS fighters (file)Reuters

The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad said Tuesday it is ready to offer Palestinian factions its firepower to support their battle with the Islamic State group  (ISIS) in the Yarmouk camp on the outskirts of Damascus, which has been evastated by clashes and aerial attacks.  

The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yarmouk has pushed the UN Security Council to demand greater access to residents trapped between the encroaching ISIS jihadists and besieging government forces.

The fierce clashes that began on April 1 have ceased, as ISIS has consolidated its control over the vast majority of the camp, but regime forces continue to drop barrel bombs on the camp, which lies six kilometers (nearly four miles) from central Damascus.

In the capital, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad met with a delegation from the Palestine Liberation Organisation headed by Ahmad Majdalani.  

"Syrian authorities are ready to support the Palestinian fighters in a number of ways, including militarily, to push IS out of the camp," said PLO official Anwar Abdul Hadi, who was at the meetings.  

Meqdad said the "Syrian government had used all its efforts to present humanitarian and medical aid to Palestinian refugees and that it had helped them exit Yarmouk safely."

"Syria and the PLO are determined to fight terrorism, which has reached Palestinian camps in Syria, notably Yarmouk," he said, quoted by the official SANA news agency.

Speaking after meeting with Meqdad, Majdalani told AFP they had "agreed on the need for a unified position for the Palestinian forces in Syria, in coordination with the Syrian government."

He said there would be continued cooperation between Syrian and Palestinian leaders "to defeat terrorism in Yarmouk".

A meeting among Syria's Palestinian terrorist factions is set for Wednesday to discuss a broader consensus.  

If achieved, this rapprochement would be significant for Yarmouk, which had seen fierce clashes since the end of 2012 between regime forces and rebels supported by Palestinian terrorist groups.

Most of the Palestinian factions in Yarmouk are opposed to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The main faction in Yarmouk is Aknaf Beit al-Makdis, an offshoot of Hamas, which supports the rebels. But smaller Palestinian factions closely aligned with the regime - most notably the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) have since joined the fray alongside them.

ISIS arrival to Yarmouk sounded alarm bells in Damascus, as it was the closest jihadists had ever been to the capital.

Syrian troops currently hold the northernmost part of the camp, which ISIS would need to take to advance further into Damascus.

'Worse than a big prison'

Camp residents described a disastrous humanitarian situation.

"I used to call the camp a big prison... Now, it's different, it's even worse," Samer told AFP via Skype from inside the camp.

"There was a young man who was killed next to my house by barrel bombs. We picked him up in pieces."

Most of the camp's doctors had already fled, leaving only paramedics to care for the wounded.

A sniper shot dead a 12-year-old girl Tuesday on the edge of Yarmouk, another resident said, describing her as a child who "loved singing, music and playing the drums".  

On Monday, the Security Council called "for the protection of civilians in the camp for ensuring humanitarian access to the area," said Jordan's ambassador Dina Kawar, the council chair this month.

In a meeting with the council, Pierre Krahenbuhl, who heads the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, described the situation as "more desperate than ever" for the camp's roughly 18,000 remaining residents.

"What civilians in Yarmouk are most concerned about right now is bare survival," he said.  

Since 2012, Yarmouk has been under a nearly-impenetrable regime siege that has left about 200 people dead due to malnutrition and lack of medication alone, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

ISIS began an assault on Yarmouk last Wednesday and was initially repelled by Palestinian fighters but has since seized large swathes of the district.

At least 39 people, among them eight civilians, have been killed in the fighting, the Observatory said.

The Britain-based monitor said ISIS forces were present in the south, west and east of the camp, with Palestinian fighters largely confined to the north, apparently wedged between ISIS and regime positions.   

The ISIS attack is just the latest blow for Yarmouk, which was once a thriving, working-class residential district of the capital, home to some 160,000 people, Syrians and Palestinians.

In violence elsewhere on Tuesday, at least seven people were killed, including two military commanders, in a car bomb blast targeting a base used by Islamist groups including Al Qaeda's Nusra Front in Marea, a town in Aleppo province of northern Syria, the Observatory said.

Reports claimed the bombings were carried out by ISIS, which is locked in a bitter rivalry with Al Qaeda.

AFP contributed to this report.