Hamas holds Gaza march for besieged Yarmuk refugees

Palestinian refugees queue up to receive aid parcels from a local organisation at the besieged Yarmuk refugee camp, south of the Syrian capital Damascus, on March 11, 2015 (AFP Photo/)

Khan Yunis (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Hundreds rallied Saturday in the Gaza Strip in support of thousands of fellow Palestinians trapped in Syria's Yarmuk camp, which has been largely overrun by jihadist fighters.

Hundreds, many waving Hamas flags, took to the streets in the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis in a march organised by the militant Islamic movement, the de facto power in the coastal enclave.

"We say it for the thousandth time: hands off the Yarmuk camp, hands off our people, hands off the slaughtered, killed and starved," senior Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil told them.

He called on the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA to use all the influence at its disposal.

"Your role today is...to exert your pressure in order to find a way out for those besieged," he said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, a senior official in Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's West Bank-based administration, decried in a statement "the persecution and slaughtering of Palestinian refugees... in a conflict that isn’t theirs."

"Reports of kidnappings, beheadings and mass killings are coming out from Yarmuk, which is under a brutal campaign of murder and occupation at the hands of the terrorist group of Daesh and its allies," he said.

Erakat was referring to the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda's affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

A Syrian opposition official said on Saturday that thousands of Palestinian civilians are trapped in the Damascus camp Yarmuk, which is ringed by government forces as well.

"The priority must be to save the Palestinian refugees in the camp by creating a safe passage for them out of the death trap that Yarmuk has become," said Erakat.

"We call upon the United Nations and other involved organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as the Syrian government to take all necessary measures to immediately evacuate civilians. Time is quickly running out."

Senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official Hanan Ashrawi called for a united international effort to stop what she called "a heartbreaking catastrophe."

"There is an urgent need for all countries to intervene immediately and work together to provide emergency relief and put an end to the bloodshed and the loss of innocent lives," she said in a statement.

"We call on all members of the international community, particularly the United Nations, European Union and the United States, to safeguard the innocent people of Yarmuk and ensure that all sides commit to a permanent ceasefire."