Pales­tinian camp clashes force res­i­dents to flee in Syria cap­i­tal

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY BASSEM MROUE

Hun­dreds of res­i­dents of a Pales­tinian refugee camp in the Syr­ian cap­i­tal Da­m­as­cus fled Sun­day amid shelling by gov­ern­ment forces and clashes be­tween Is­lamic State (IS) fighters and Pales­tinian mil­i­tants, ac­tivists said.

An ac­tivist based in an area just south of Da­m­as­cus, Hatem alDi­mashqi, said many res­i­dents started flee­ing the Yar­mouk camp af­ter mid­night as the fight­ing let up. The camp has been sub­jected to in­tense shelling and airstrikes by the gov­ern­ment.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights and alDi­mashqi said those who fled the camp have reached the south­ern Da­m­as­cus sub­urbs of Yalda, Ba­bila and Beit Sa­hem, which are un­der rebel con­trol.

Al-Di­mashqi and Syr­ian state TV said as many as 2,000 peo­ple have left the camp. The ac­tivist said that many of those who fled the camp are stay­ing in schools or aban­doned homes.

Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas said in Ra­mal­lah that res­i­dents of Yar­mouk have been vic­tim­ized by Syria’s civil war. Gov­ern­ment forces and dif­fer­ent rebel fac­tions are clash­ing and “we pay the price,” he said.

He added that the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion in Da­m­as­cus has formed a “cell to han­dle this tragedy and they are try­ing to work it out with the least losses.” Ab­bas said: “We are in touch with our broth­ers there to find a way out and pro­tect our peo­ple.”

Is­lamic State mil­i­tants stormed the camp on Wed­nes­day, mark­ing the ex­trem­ist group’s deep­est foray yet into the cap­i­tal. Pales­tinian of­fi­cials and Syr­ian ac­tivists said they were work­ing with ri­vals from the al-Qaida af­fil­i­ate in Syria, the Nusra Front. The two groups have fought bloody bat­tles against each other in other parts of Syria, but ap­pear to be co­op­er­at­ing in the attack on Yar­mouk.

The Nusra Front said in a state­ment Sun­day that it is not par­tic­i­pat­ing in the bat­tles and is tak­ing a neu­tral stance. The state­ment added that Nusra opened its of­fices and wel­comed all those who don’t want to take part in the fight­ing and gave them refuge.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said the fight­ing has killed 26 peo­ple since the clashes first broke out.

In Gaza, sev­eral hun­dred sup­port­ers of the rul­ing Ha­mas group staged a march late Sun­day in the Je­baliya refugee camp to protest the Is­lamic State group’s takeover of parts of Yar­mouk.

“Pales­tinian blood is not cheap,” Mo­hammed Abu Askar, a lo­cal Ha­mas leader, told the crowd, threat­en­ing re­venge for the Is­lamic State in­cur­sion into Yar­mouk.

In Da­m­as­cus, An­war Raja, the spokesman for Dam­sas­cus-based Popular Front for the Lib­er­a­tion of Pales­tine — Gen­eral Com­mand, which sup­ports em­bat­tled Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad, said sev­eral pro-As­sad fac­tions have united to de­fend the camp. He said more than 100 civil­ians have been ei­ther killed or kid­napped by the IS fighters whom he said now con­trol about half the camp, adding that the pri­or­ity now is to evac­u­ate civil­ians.

The United Na­tions says around 18,000 civil­ians, in­clud­ing a large num­ber of chil­dren, are trapped in Yar­mouk. The camp has been un­der gov­ern­ment siege for nearly two years, lead­ing to star­va­tion and ill­nesses caused by lack of med­i­cal aid. The camp has also wit­nessed sev­eral rounds of fe­ro­cious and deadly fight­ing be­tween gov­ern­ment forces and mil­i­tants.

Most of the camp’s es­ti­mated 160,000 in­hab­i­tants fled in late 2012 as clashes erupted be­tween pro- and anti-As­sad Pales­tinian gun­men— many to over­crowded and des­ti­tute Pales­tinian refugee camps in neigh­bor­ing Le­banon. Only the poor­est re­mained be­hind.

Also Sun­day, Le­banon’s staterun Na­tional News Agency said six Le­banese truck driv­ers who were held by mil­i­tants af­ter they cap­tured the Nasib bor­der cross­ing point with Jor­dan have re­turned safely to Le­banon. The agency re­ported on Fri­day that 10 driv­ers were held by mil­i­tants. The fate of the oth­ers is still un­known.

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