Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed at least 15 Palestinians, mostly women and children, in a rocket attack on a rebel-held refugee camp on the southern edge of Damascus on Wednesday, opposition activists said.
Palestinian militia from the pro-Assad Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) as well as Syrian army and intelligence troops have been surrounding the camp for months.
On Saturday they launched a ground infantry assault backed by tanks and multiple rocket launchers to capture the camp but were being met by stiff resistance, opposition sources said.
"The rockets hit a residential and shopping area way behind the front line. The victims were civilians," activist Rami al-Sayyed from the Syrian Media Centre opposition monitoring group, said from the area, adding that 45 people were wounded.
The report could not be independently confirmed. The Syrian government restricts access to journalists.
The Yarmouk Camp Coordination Committee said two Grad missiles fired by PFLP-GC militia hit the Hamdan Bakery area. Five women and five children were killed. One family living in the area, Fadlon, had five members killed, the organisation said.
Video footage taken by activists, which could not be immediately verified, showed one destroyed building and extensive damage to surrounding structures. People collected body parts from the rubble. A hand was placed into a transparent plastic bag.
Assad's forces have been fighting against rebels for two and a half years in a civil war that has killed at least 100,000 people.
Located at the southern entrance of Damascus, the sprawling camp was home to hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Palestinians before the uprising against the 13 year rule of Assad.
Yarmouk links the large rebel held Sunni Muslim neighbourhoods of Hajar al-Aswad and Asali with the capital and its capture is a key objective for loyalist forces seeking to regain control over southern Damascus, opposition sources said.
Syrian rebels aided by Palestinian fighters who had joined the revolt captured Yarmouk at the start of this year and took the PFLP-GC headquarters in the camp. The PFLP-GC, headed by long time Assad ally Ahmed Jibreel, is classified as a terrorist organisation by the United States.