Hundreds of Palestinian refugees have fled a camp in Syria as it comes under bombardment by government forces and battles with Isis militants rage.
The so-called Islamic State took control of much of the Yarmouk refugee camp with the help of fellow Islamists last week, making it a target for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
As the violence escalated today, the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNRWA) that runs the settlement pleaded for all sides not to harm the civilians, including thousands of children, trapped inside.
It warned of “the gravest and most appalling of consequences” if hostilities do not stop and humanitarian aid cannot reach them.
Hatem al-Dimashqi, an activist based in an area south of Damascus, said many residents started fleeing Yarmouk after midnight on Saturday during a brief lull in fighting between Palestinian militants and Isis.
It has reportedly been hit by intense shelling and air strikes by the Syrian government after being stormed by the so-called Islamic State on Wednesday.
Palestinian officials and Syrian activists said they were joined by fighters from the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra. The two groups are fighting bloody battles to control territory elsewhere in Syria but are known to co-operate occasionally.
In pictures: Syria conflict
In pictures: Syria conflict
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Syrians carry children amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man carries a girl on a street covered with dust following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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Syrians react as they stand amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man carries a girl amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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An injured Syrian man walks out from the rubble of a destroyed building following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian woman makes her way through debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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People stand on the rubble of collapsed buildings at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the Al-Fardous neighbourhood of Aleppo
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Syrian residents stand amid the rubble of destroyed buildings
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A Syrian resident grasps a mattress amid rubble in the al-Firdous neighborhood of the northern city of Aleppo
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A bullet-riddled parking sign stands amid debris in a deserted street leading into the old city of Homs
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A general view shows abandoned buildings on a deserted square in the old city of Homs after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas
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A mosque is pictured through shattered glass in the old city of Homs, as rebel fighters withdrew from the city centre in line with a negotiated withdrawal deal with the government after having held out under tight siege for nearly two years
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Buses carrying Free Syrian Army fighters leaving Homs. Exhausted and worn out from a year-long siege, hundreds of Syrian rebels left their last remaining bastions in the heart of the central city of Homs under a cease-fire deal with government forces. The exit of some 1,200 fighters and civilians will mark a de facto end of the rebellion in the battered city, which was one of the first places to rise up against President Bashar Assad's rule, earning it the nickname of "capital of the revolution"
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Syrian government forces hold up a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad (L) while others raise the national flag on top of a pole in the old city of Homs
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Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad run through Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr crossing after their release by rebels. They were freed as part of a larger deal which saw the last remaining Syrian rebels in central Homs city evacuate their positions and free captives in several locations in northern Syria
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A Syrian woman and two children walk past heavily damaged buildings in the northern city of Aleppo
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A man carries a wounded girl following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by Syrian government forces in the al-Mowasalat neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A wounded man sits as he is treated at a makeshift hospital following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by Syrian government forces in the al-Sakhour district of the northern city of Aleppo
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Debris rises in what Free Syrian Army fighters and Islamic rebels said was an operation to strike Al-Sahaba checkpoint, which is considered a gateway to Al-Dayf valley, and remove forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Maarat Al-Nouman, Idlib province
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Men try to put out fire at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey
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Civil Defence members try to put out fire
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Survivors react at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey
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Residents queue as they wait to receive food aid distributed by the UNRWA at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, south of Damascus
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Belongings of Syrian rebels inside a chapel at Crac des Chevaliers, the world's best preserved medieval Crusader castle in Syria. The village was destroyed in fighting between the government and rebel forces while the castle, listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, also has been damaged over the past two years
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Hosen Sabah, a 16-year-old student is comforted by his mother at a hospital in Damascus. Nosen was wounded by a mortar outside his school, while 14 other students were killed and over 80 wounded
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A Free Syrian Army fighter works on a locally made launcher before firing it towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Mork town
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Syrian policemen and citizens inspecting the site of a car bomb at the entrance of Moadhamiyet al-Sham neighborhood in rural Damascus. According to Syria's Arab News Agency (SANA), a car bomb explosion has gone off in the countryside of Damascus and initial information say there are casualties, where a car rigged with explosions was remotely detonated at the entrance of Moadhamiyet al-Sham neighborhood in rural Damascus during engineering units it was trying to dismantled it
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Opposition fighters carrying a rocket launcher during clashes against government forces in the Sheikh Lutfi area, west of the airport in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man helps a woman to make her way through debris following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
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A Syrian man reacts as he carries the body of injured boy following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 33 civilians were killed in the attack
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Syrian rescue workers carry the body of a woman following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
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Syrians gather at the site of reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those who managed to flee have reached the southern Damascus suburbs of Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahem, which are under rebel control.
A spokesperson said 26 people, including civilians, had been killed during clashes so far and seven people were executed by Isis.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the residents of Yarmouk are being victimised by Syria's brutal civil war.
Government forces and different rebel factions are clashing and “we pay the price,” he added.
“We are in touch with our brothers there to find a way out and protect our people.”
The Palestine Liberation Organisation in Damascus has formed what Mr Abbas called a “cell to handle this tragedy”, adding that “they are trying to work it out with the least losses”.
Jabhat al-Nusra claimed in a statement today that it was not participating in the battles and has taken a neutral stance, as well as opening its offices as a refuge.
In Damascus, Anwar Raja, a spokesperson for the pro-Assad Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said several factions had united to defend the camp.
He claimed more than 100 civilians have been either killed or kidnapped by Isis fighters who control between an estimated half and 90 per cent of Yarmouk. The numbers could not be confirmed.
“Never has the hour been more desperate,” a spokesperson for the UNRWA said, appealing for all sides to put down their arms and withdraw immediately from civilian-populated areas.
The agency said Yarmouk is home to around 18,000 civilians, including 3,500 children at risk of of death, serious injury, trauma and displacement.
“UNRWA calls on concerned states to urgently exercise their authority and influence in order to end the fighting in Yarmouk for the sake of saving civilian lives and alleviating human suffering,” a spokesperson added.
“We demand that all parties exercise maximum restraint and abide by their obligations under international law to protect civilians.”
UNRWA also wants humanitarian access to be maintained Yarmouk so safe conditions can be maintained for evacuations and the delivery of food, water and vital supplies.
The thousands of Palestinians living there have already been trapped for more than two years by intense fighting in the Syrian civil war and the camp has been shelled numerous times since 2011.
“Men, women and children - Syrians and Palestinians alike - are cowering in their battered homes in profound fear, desperate for security, food and water, deeply concerned by the grave perils that may yet come, as hostilities continue,” a UNRWA spokesperson said.
“The situation is extremely dire and threatens to deteriorate even further.”
Additional reporting by APReuse content