Palestinians: IS Losing Ground in Syria’s Yarmouk Camp

If Yarmouk is not reached by aid distributors soon, 'we are potentially witnessing a slaughter of the innocents.'

Militants from the Islamic State group have lost ground to Palestinian fighters in Syria’s Yarmouk camp, Palestinian officials and a resident said on Tuesday.

UN officials in Syria said, meanwhile, they were discussing ways of getting humanitarian aid into the camp and helping residents who have fled Yarmouk.

IS fighters have retreated from much of the territory they seized in the camp in southern Damascus, a resident calling himself Samer told AFP.

“We haven’t even seen any Daesh members in over three days,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

Yarmouk, which is Syria’s largest refugee camp lying seven kilometers south of Damascus, was initially attacked by IS on April 1, and the group subsequently took over up to 90 percent of the camp.

Since then, armed Palestinian factions have fought back whyile Syria’s air force struck IS positions in the camp.

The withdrawal was confirmed by an official from a pro-Syrian regime Palestinian faction fighting against IS inside Yarmouk.

“There are intermittent but ongoing clashes between Palestinian factions and IS,” said Khaled Abdel Majid, head of the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, adding that IS had withdrawn from most of the neighborhoods it previously controlled.

IS fighters were now confined largely to the camp’s southwest, with Palestinian factions — both pro- and anti-Syrian regime — controlling most of the east and north, Palestinian sources said.

Regime forces are stationed outside the camp and have maintained a tight siege, but Abdel Majid said the Palestinian factions had established a “joint operations room” with government forces.

A Syrian security source in Damascus also said “the Palestinian factions have made progress and were able to recapture key points… and the operation is ongoing.”

Fighters from the Palestinian Fatah and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine groups are not participating, Palestinian officials said.

Both groups have said they want Yarmouk to remain neutral and do not want to be seen as taking a side in the conflict between Syria’s government and opposition forces.

Citing a longstanding policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of Arab nations, PLO envoy to Syria Ahmed Majdalani said Saturday the situation was out of the hands of the Palestinian leadership.

Majdalani told Ma’an at the time that the resort to military action had been imposed on Palestinian groups by IS, and that negotiations would not be workable.

The Palestinian forces inside the camp include the anti-regime Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis group that has fought alongside Syrian rebels.

The IS advance rattled residents and the government, with Syria’s reconciliation minister saying a military operation would be necessary to expel the militants.

Their move into Yarmouk plunged it into further hardship, worsening already dire conditions caused by the government siege which has been imposed on the camp on for more than 18 months.

Once home to some 160,000 Palestinians and some Syrian residents, Yarmouk’s population had shrunk to just 18,000 by the time IS moved in.

According to Palestinian sources, some 2,500 civilians have managed to escape the camp, but aid agencies and the United Nations have warned of a serious humanitarian crisis and urged all parties to allow the creation of a humanitarian corridor.

If Yarmouk is not reached by aid distributors soon, “we are potentially witnessing a slaughter of the innocents,” senior director of UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA told Reuters earlier this week.

Similarly, UNWRA head Pierre Krahenbuhl, told AFP in Damascus on Tuesday that the situation in Yarmouk remained “catastrophic in human terms.”

He said UNRWA was unable to enter the camp but was seeking “to find ways to resume distributions for people who are inside.”

“It will be very difficult but we will try, we will discuss how to find places where distributions can take place that people can reach safely.”

He also stressed the symbolic importance of Yarmouk, the largest of 12 Palestinian refugee camps in Syria.

“For Palestine refugees, Yarmouk is something very special. They have no intention of abandoning Yarmouk. Yarmouk is a place that is very deep in their identity.”

Prior to the start of the conflict, up to 600,000 Palestinian refugees lived in Syria, though the UN’s Palestine refugee agency UNRWA estimates that more than half have been forced to leave their homes in Syria due to violence in the country.

Palestinians in Syria are among the five million decedents of the 7-800,000 Palestinians expelled from their homes inside Israel during the 1948 conflict that led to the creation of the State of Israel.

(Agencies and Ma’an – www.maannews.net)

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