Palestinians support joint military operation against extremists in Yarmouk

Palestinians support joint military operation against extremists in Yarmouk
Numerous Palestinian factions have agreed to follow the Syrian government's lead to tackle extremist militants who have pushed into Yarmouk camp in southern Damascus.
4 min read
09 April, 2015
An umbrella of Palestinian factions have agreed to cooperate with the Syrian army to repel the incursion by Islamic State group into Yarmouk camp. 

For several days, Palestinian forces in Yarmouk refugee camp, supported by some Syrian rebels, have fought to resist an offensive by Islamic State group (IS, formerly ISIS) on the camp in south Damascus. 

After extensive meetings with government officials followed by talks with different rebel factions, Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official Ahmed Majdalani said the groups supported a coordinated military effort in the camp. 

The extremist group's presence in Yarmouk has raised international alarm over the plight of the camp's remaining residents, who have endured repeated bombardment and a siege for more than 18 months imposed by the Syrian regime.

Some 22 civilians are reported to have been killed since the start of the conflict with IS last week and around 200 have been injured.
     We agreed that there would be permanent cooperation with the Syrian leadership.

- Ahmed Majdalani, PLO official

The PLO's Majdalani made a statement in which he confirmed the "Palestinian leadership will support any decision" by the Syrian government.

"We agreed that there would be permanent cooperation with the Syrian leadership and the formation of a joint operations room with Syrian government forces and the Palestinian factions that have a significant presence in the camp or around it," he said

The Palestinian factions have been divided over their relationship to the Syrian government since the conflict first penetrated the camp over two years ago and it remains unclear how some of the key fighting groups will respond to this declaration of cooperation.

The Aknaf Beit al Makdis militia has been spearheading the campaign on the ground against IS but did not send representatives to the PLO-hosted meeting.

The group is purportedly linked to Hamas, which has lent its weight to rebels and factions fighting against the regime, although Hamas denies direct affiliation.

Hamas was also not at the meeting and has not publicly supported the idea of a joint military operation with the Syrian Army and security services.

The details of what kind of "security solution" will be adopted or on what scale it would take remain unclear.

"We remain in the dark over what extent of military operations will be undertaken in Yarmouk, what level of bombardment will be unleashed on the people still there, nor how many lives may be lost," said Salim Salameh, head of the Palestinian League for Human Rights.

"I fear this could lead to a massacre with the civilians caught in the crossfire."
     The action must take into account the lives of the camp's citizens and avoid massive destruction.


The PLO's Majdalani did stress that backing for a military operation was dependent on action to protect civilian lives and infrastructure in the battered camp.

"The action must take into account the lives of the camp's citizens and avoid massive destruction. It will be carried out in a progressive fashion," he said.

Conflicting messages

Hours before the PLOs announcement, the only functioning hospital in the camp was bombed by government forces and social media activists in the camp continue to post material suggesting barrel bombs and random shelling continue to cause widespread destruction.

Some 12,000 civilians remain trapped in what used to be a thriving district of some 160,000 people in the southern suburbs of Damascus. 

The embattled and besieged people living there have come to epitomise the hopeless desperation endured by innocents ensnared in Syria's killing fields.

In 2014 alone at least 200 besieged residents starved to death, not to mention those killed by bombs, bullets and knives.
A video purporting to capture the sound of barrel bombs over Yarmouk from a camp radio station, Yarmouk 73. The footage could not be independently verified.

On Monday, the UN Security Council called for urgent  humanitarian access to the camp, and Palestinian officials have appealed to the world to help protect its already exhausted, scared, and isolated residents.

Speaking to al-Araby al-Jadeed, sources from inside the camp said that IS is handing over a number of positions it controlled following a fight against Liwa Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis Brigade to the Ahrar ash-Sham movement and the Nusra Front in the wake of a trilateral agreement.

Under the agreement the IS fighters would go back to areas inside the Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood, which is adjacent to the camp from the south.

Nonetheless a outright political solution is not on the table with both the PLO and Syrian government saying a military solution "is inevitable".