UNITED NATIONS  - Violence has again disrupted efforts to deliver aid to a besieged camp on the outskirts of Damascus, the UN agency assisting Palestinian refugees across the Middle East warned Monday, as it launched a global campaign demanding immediate access to all civilians in war-torn Syria trapped by the violence.
Spokesperson Christopher Gunness said the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) received credible reports that although substantially reduced in intensity, clashes and shelling have continued in Yarmouk camp for the past two days.
“Ongoing hostilities have now prevented UNRWA from distributing humanitarian assistance in Yarmouk for nine consecutive days,” he said, underscoring the agency’s deep concern about the desperate humanitarian situation in the camp and the fact that repeated resort to armed force has, over the previous nine days, disrupted its efforts to alleviate the desperate plight of civilians.
“UNRWA reiterates its strong demands that all parties cease hostilities and seek to resolve their differences exclusively by peaceful means,” said Mr Gunness.
AFP adds: A group of nuns kidnapped in a Syrian village were freed Monday, part of a rare prisoner swap in a three-year war whose brutality is highlighted in a new Amnesty report.
Jihadists seized the 13 nuns and three maids on December 3 from the famed Christian village of Maalula - where residents still speak the ancient Aramaic of Jesus Christ - and took them to the nearby town of Yabrud. The women, who arrived after midnight at the regime-held town of Jdeidet Yabus near the border with Lebanon, were exhausted but praised those who negotiated their release. “We want to thank God, who made it possible for us to be here now,” one nun told reporters.
She thanked Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and Qatari emir Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani as well as Lebanon’s General Security agency director Abbas Ibrahim, who mediated the exchange. He told Lebanon’s New TV that no ransom was paid, and the deal involved the release of “more than 150 female prisoners”.
The nun, seated and dressed in her black religious habit, said all 16 hostages were treated “well” in captivity. The kidnappers, fighters from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, “were giving us everything we asked for”, she said.
“No one bothered us,” she added, denying rumours their kidnappers had forced the group of Syrian and Lebanese nuns to remove their crosses.