Thursday 27 October 2016

Islamic State withdraws from Palestinian refugee camp

Saif Hameed

Published 15/04/2015 | 12:35

Islamic State fighters have withdrawn from a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus after expelling their main rival, Palestinian officials claim.

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The pull-out from Yarmouk leaves al Qaeda-linked Nusra as the main group inside the camp.

Sources said hundreds of fighters of the hardline Islamic State had returned to their stronghold in neighbouring Hajar al Aswad, from where they had launched their attack earlier this month.

Read More: Islamic State seizes a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus

"Most of them have withdrawn in mostly to-and-fro skirmishes that took place between them and their advesaries," resident Abu Ahmad Hawari said.

Alongside seeking to capture the camp, they sought to defeat their rival, the Hamas-linked Aknaf al Maqdis, an opposition group that was ideologically opposed to them.

Islamic State's arrival in Yarmouk had given the jihadist group a significant foothold a few kilometers from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's seat of power.

The group was still fighting some of the remaining Aknaf al Maqdis fighters in the northern entrance of the camp at the junction of the main Palestine and Yarmouk streets, two residents said.

Read More: Isil storms refugee camp in Damascus in surprise raid

The withdrawal leaves al-Qaeda offshoot al Nusra as the biggest force in the camp, many of whose residents have fled since Islamic State launched its offensive, they added.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation envoy to Damascus said that Nusra was now the main group in the camp.

"They and Nusra are one. They are changing positions," Anwar Abdul Hadi told Reuters.

The camp was home to some 160,000 Palestinians before the Syrian conflict began in 2011, refugees from the 1948 war of Israel's founding, and their descendents.

Elsewhere, Islamic State gained ground in western Iraq after overrunning another village near the capital of Anbar province.

Following a dawn raid, hundreds of families have fled Albu Ghanim after security forces withdrew from the area after they came under attack from militants.

Read More: Iraq 'victory' over IS in Tikrit

The ISIS has been making inroads on Ramadi's northern periphery since the government announced the start of a new offensive last week to recapture the Sunni heartland of Anbar.

Large parts of the province had slipped from the government's grasp even before Islamic State seized the northern city of Mosul last June and proclaimed a caliphate straddling the border between Iraq and Syria.


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