Aid agencies in Syria have evacuated hundreds of people from the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Yarmouk, a government-aligned Palestinian group said on Saturday, in a rare moment of coordination between the government and rebel forces.
Granting relief groups access to an estimated 250,000 people trapped by fighting across Syria was one of the goals of the peace talks held last week in Switzerland, which recessed on Friday with no substantial results.
Despite lengthy discussions, the sides could not agree on passage for an aid convoy to reach 2,500 people trapped in the old city of Homs, Syria's third-largest city, with no access to food or medicine.
Anwar Raja, a spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), which operates in Yarmouk, said the group had coordinated with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent on Friday and Saturday to extract "hundreds" of the suburb's residents.
The evacuees were transported to several government-run hospitals and one operated by the Red Crescent, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.
The Red Crescent could not be reached to confirm the details of the operation.
According to the U.N., at least 15 people have died from malnutrition in Yarmouk, originally a Palestinian refugee camp which now houses 18,000 Palestinians, as well as some Syrians.
Opposition activists say the government is using hunger as a weapon of war but Damascus accuses rebels of firing on aid convoys and says it fears aid supplies will go to armed groups.
UNRWA said on Thursday it had distributed 1,000 food parcels in Yarmouk camp, its biggest delivery there yet. UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the aid was the first to reach Yarmouk since January 21 when 138 food parcels were sent in. Each parcel can feed a family of up to 8 for about 10 days, meaning the people's needs still far outstrip aid deliveries.
Syria's state news agency SANA confirmed the aid delivery, saying Yarmouk's residents were "held hostage by armed terrorist groups" - its usual description of rebel forces.
UNRWA had blamed the authorities for preventing its convoy from reaching the neighborhood on Sunday. Two weeks earlier, aid convoys turned back after a government escort was fired on.