Report by Amal Asfour, member of the Palestinian National Assembly for Relief, Yarmouk camp
The following report was written before the last two days, which have seen some progress for Palestinian forces and setbacks for ISIS in Yarmouk. The author emphasizes both the need for urgent Palestinian action and unity to defend Yarmouk camp and its Palestinian people, and also the fact that this crisis is, at its core, caused by the denial of the right of return for Palestinian refugees for 67 years. Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homes and lands in Palestine must be implemented – and must be at the center of all work to defend the rights of Palestinian refugees:
The assassination of Yahya Hourani (Abu Suhaib), who was primarily responsible for Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis in Yarmouk camp, on March 30 exacerbated the crisis and intensified the plight and suffering of our people in Yarmouk camp, and also cut the road in front of a pending Palestinian initiative to neutralize the camp from the conflict in Syria. After the assassination, one of the groups of Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis arrested elements from ISIS in the camp, over the objections of Jabhat al-Nusra. These events prompted Jabhat al-Nusra to turn on Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, despite some elements having coordinated with them in the past, and launch a conspiracy in full collaboration with ISIS groups to invade al-Hajar al-Aswad and al-Takadom, to invade Yarmouk camp, control it, and eliminate Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis. This invasion took place over a very short period of time, demonstrating the extent of the coordination and cooperation with Al-Nusra, in order to pave the way for ISIS to achieve this control without any difficulties or confrontation. This invasion forced people remaining in the camp [there were originally 180,000 residents of Yarmouk; approximately 17,000 remain today] to flee to various unsafe neighbouring regions under the control of a number of opposition groups, such as Ababil Horan, Liwaa al-Islam, and Sham al-Rasoul; all of these are small forces belonging to the Islamic Front in the southern areas under Zahran Alloush, who is known to be supported by Saudi Arabia. This imposed a new reality which directly threatens the Palestinian presence in Yarmouk refugee camp, sparking fear, panic, displacement and looting.
After storming the camp, ISIS arrested some members of Aknaf and some civilians, and the first thing they did was to impose their control over Palestine Hospital, the only functioning hospital in the camp, which provides medical services despite a lack of medical equipment and medicine, and to trap the medical staff inside. Finally, the siege by ISIS on the hospital was broken and medical staff went to work in Al-Bassil Hospital which also lacks medical equipment, but has been used to treat some simple cases of the wounded and injured in the clashes between Aknaf on the one side and ISIS and Nusra on the other side.
After ISIS dominated a large portion of the camp, they entered the mosques and broadcast calls for the surrender of Aknaf members to Nusra, assuring them of safety, which caused some of the members of Aknaf to surrender themselves to Nusra. Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis then announced collectively that they were compelled to confront this cooperation between Nusra and ISIS inside the camp. They called for help from the opposition Islamic Front forces, but these forces ignored and did not respond to this call. The camp was cut off from all sides, from the intersection of Tadamon/Palestine, and from the intersection of Yalda/Palestine Square.
Aknaf found itself itself in confrontation with these gangs who took advantage of the opportunity to break furniture and steal food from displaced families and forcibly invaded some offices that were providing relief services to the people of the camp, including the office of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, where the civil relief association of PLO factions is headquartered, where they broke furniture, stole goods and materials that they could take, burned posters of the martyrs, banners, and Palestinian flags, and wrote slogans on the walls, such as “We will kill you, infidels.” Following these invasions and during the clashes, comrades were able to restore the office and resume their work.
After this, ISIS deployed snipers inside houses and on the rooftops of buildings to forbid the movement of civilians, injuring and killing five civilians, some of whom died because of the lack of medical care and medical supplies for the health workers in the camp, and the martyrs were buried in the places they fell because the martyrs’ cemetery in the camp cannot be accessed due to the clashes between ISIS/Nusra and Aknaf.
ISIS managed to control large parts of the camp, and Aknaf did not have the ability alone to respond to this attack and asked for help from the Alliance Factions in coordination with the Syrian state to defeat ISIS and force their withdrawal from the camp. In light of this reality, there is on the horizon potential threads of an alliance between the Palestinian popular committees and the factions on one hand and Aknaf on the other hand, but without a unified Palestinian position and vision for the liberation of the camp.
The delegation of the Palestinian Authority participated in failing to form a unified position in its meeting with the PLO factions on April 7, and then in the meeting of the 14 factions on April 8. Meanwhile, the fear and suffering of people trapped inside continues, as they fear being hit by missiles, rockets or bombs targeting ISIS and its invasion.
In the same context, there was a realization among Aknaf that any assistance that they can get from Yalda/Palestine Square intersection will help Aknaf, but events have proven that they have stretched their presence thinly in order to protect their defense lines.
We cannot say for sure what the current position is; nothing is yet decided, every party is in their position without progress, ISIS and Nusra in Loubia street, Aknaf and the Alliance Factions in the vicinity of Salah al-Din mosque. Fighting and clashes are continuing between the parties. This is a dangerous development in the crisis of the camp, that complicates matters further and puts a greater burden and responsibility on the shoulders of the Palestinian factions to move quickly and urgently to adopt a unified position, and the PLO factions must seize this opportunity to do so, to defend the people of the camp against this attack and their further dispersion.
This situation exists because for 67 years, Palestinian refugees have been denied their right to return home. The racist, colonialist Zionist project has forced Palestinian refugees from their homes and continues to deny their right to return and is fully responsible in every attack on the rights and the lives of Palestinian refugees, who continue to struggle, first and foremost, for their return and for the liberation of Palestine.