Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Yarmuk Camp under attack

In attacking the Yarmuk Palestinian Refugee Camp on the pretext of fighting the Islamic State terrorist group the Damascus regime is targeting a symbol of the Palestinian presence in Syria, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus


Yarmuk Camp
Yarmuk Camp

Talks between the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and the Islamic State (IS) terror group controlling the Yarmuk Palestinian Refugee Camp in Damascus on the exit of 1,000 IS fighters failed last week, leading to attacks on the camp by regime forces.

Some 500,000 Palestinian Syrians lived in the camp before IS took control and expelled opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces, and the camp has long been an important symbol of the Palestinian presence in Syria.

The regime forced IS fighters to relocate to the border area between Syria, Jordan and Israel. Its conditions implied the group’s surrender and complete defeat, but IS insisted on staying in areas under its control in the Yarmuk Camp in talks attended by a representative of the Russian forces in Syria.

One day after the regime announced that the negotiations were stumbling, the Syrian Air Force attacked the camp using heavy artillery similar to scorched-earth operations. In two days it had carried out 500 air strikes on the camp, with pro-Iran militias participating in the assault along with Palestinian groups loyal to the Syrian regime.

The IS fighters were no longer in the camp, and only some 2,000 civilians were left behind to face the hellish conditions.

Said Ali Badawi, a Palestinian trapped in the camp, said that “there are no bodies in the streets and no fighters fighting in trenches. Most of the IS fighters suddenly vanished from inside the camp, and only a few remained. This is a war against ghosts, and those responsible must know it given the electronic recording devices inside the camp.”  

“A few days before the attack, bearded fighters said to be IS leaders were seen talking to the media. No one knows who they were, however. Anti-terrorist rhetoric was used to justify the bombing of the camp, but where are the IS leaders,” he asked.

By destroying the camp, the regime wants to remove all the armed opposition from southern Damascus, along with civilians who refuse to relocate and want to stay on their land. Media outlets received calls from civilians trapped in the camp, estimated at some 12,000 people, but the regime continued its air strikes and targeting of the Palestine Hospital.

Seventy per cent of the Yarmuk Refugee Camp where nearly one million Syrians and Palestinians lived before 2011 has now been flattened.

The regime made no distinction between IS and FSA fighters and bombed moderate opposition locations in towns bordering the camp. The armed opposition had previously agreed to a settlement under which they headed to northern Syria.

Medical services inside the camp are non-existent, with hospitals and clinics being treated as targets. People inside the camp have beseeched Arab and international organisations along with the PLO to help save civilians caught up in the bombing, but no one has come to their rescue.

The Palestinian leadership has been quiet, and neither the PLO nor the Palestinian Authority has called for a truce or opened safe passage for civilians to escape. “It is clear that the handover between IS and the Syrian regime has started,” said Mishaal Al-Adawi, a member of the Syrian opposition.

“What they want is for Iran to evacuate the camp completely, after which local councils will be created under the leadership of Ahmed Jibril, the leader of a Palestinian group loyal to the Syrian regime. Personal assets left in the camp will be seized without compensation, and Iranian companies will then arrive to develop the Sayeda Zeinab area and bring it under Iranian control.”

Refugee camps in Syria typically have several types of property deeds, and contracts are signed between people without legal status. Many buildings violated the relevant building codes, and these things can make it impossible for camp residents to prove their ownership.

The relationship between the Syrian regime and the Palestinians has long been difficult, with the regime claiming that it was confronting Israel and forging an alliance with Iran and Hizbullah in the name of resistance. This was the case even though the regime closed the borders with Israel and prevented the Palestinians from launching attacks on Israel from Syrian territory.

Since the start of the Syrian Revolution in 2011, there have been protests in Palestinian refugee camps in Latakia, the home city of Al-Assad, demanding regime change. The security forces have met these with gunfire, killing hundreds of Palestinians. In later protests across Syria, Palestinians were out in force since they have been subjected to the same oppression as Syrian citizens.

Iran and Hizbullah have supported the regime in its suppression of the revolution, without distinction made between Palestinians or Syrians or especially when ethnic cleansing and demographic changes have been carried out in the towns of Homs, Al-Qalamon, Al-Zabadani and elsewhere.

For five decades, the Syrian regime has killed more Palestinians than the Israelis, and it has routinely jailed Palestinian leaders and thinkers. Since the start of the revolution, it has displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and expelled them from refugee camps to further displacement.

The regime has also engaged in secret communications with Israel, and in 1967 the then president Hafez Al-Assad, the father of Bashar Al-Assad, ordered the Syrian army to withdraw from the Golan Heights, effectively giving it to Israel.

The Al-Assad regime also committed massacres against Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps including Tal Zaatar, Jesr Al-Basha and Barajna Tower, killing thousands. It co-opted Christian Lebanese militias that massacred Palestinians during the Lebanese Civil War in the 1980s.

The regime expelled the PLO from Syria and Lebanon, and it supported Israel against the organisation when it invaded Lebanon. It supported Islamist and non-Israeli Palestinian factions during the Syrian Revolution as supplementary forces. Now it has destroyed the Yarmuk Refugee Camp with all its national symbolism.

Many Syrians have not been surprised by the destruction of the camp since similar things have happened many times throughout Syria. However, they particularly regret that the regime has destroyed a symbol of historic co-existence between Syrians and Palestinians in the Yarmuk Refugee Camp, while still claiming to support the Palestinian cause.

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