Thousands of Palestinian civilians in Damascus have been trapped in the military clashes between armed local militias and Islamic State militants, according to Syrian activists.
Khaled Abdul-Majid, a spokesman for the Palestinian community in the Syrian capital, said ISIS launched an attack on several refugee camps in the Damascus area, and now the Jihadists are in control of most of the Yarmouk camp, located somewhere at the city’s periphery.
According to estimations made by the United Nations, around 18,000 refugees are trapped in Yarmouk, with the prospect of intensifying clashes looming on the horizon. The Palestinian population in the camp has been trapped under government siege for two years now, since the local factions took arms against President Assad’s regime.
Now, there is an even greater menace ahead of them, as Islamic State militants have joined up with al-Qaeda fighters to seize control of the camp. ISIS and the Nusra Front (al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch) are normally considered fierce rivals, and the two militant groups had been fighting each other since the starting of the Syrian civil war.
However, according to sources from both the Palestinians and Syrian activists, ISIS and al-Nusra seem to have set ideological differences aside in an unprecedented coordinated attack against the Damascus government and opposition forces.
The Yarmouk camp could become an important strategic stronghold for the rebels if they manage to hold it. While being very close to Assad’s palace, it is also a frequent drop zone of UN supplies and could provide the militants with a safe-place on case of airstrikes. The US-led coalition has proven reluctant to strike a location so close to the Syrian capital as it could put at risk the lives of thousands of civilians.
Out of the 160,000 inhabitants Yarmouk had in 2012, most fled when the civil war started. Those who were left behind are the poorer ones, including scores of children and old people. The Islamic State militants did not want only to take control of the camp, but also sought to prevent any civilians from escaping. Some of those who lived to tell the story claim that after they took over, the Jihadists placed snipers on the rooftops in order to counter any tentative of escape.
Latest on the ground reports from the Syrian National Coalition try to suggest the government in Damascus allowed the rebels ground access into the camp, by blockading the camp and bombing it for the whole duration of the attack.
Image Source: Albawaba