Friday 24 November 2017

Islamic State seizes a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus

Residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk queuing to receive food supplies Credit: UNRWA
Residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk queuing to receive food supplies Credit: UNRWA News Desk

ISIS militants have infiltrated a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, marking the deepest foray yet by the extremist group into President Bashar Assad's power base.

Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus, has been under government siege for nearly two years

On Tuesday, however, ISIS fighters, who control large swaths of territory in northern Syria, entered the camp from the nearby Hajar Aswad neighborhood in southern Damascus and were spotted clashing with a Palestinian group inside the camp.

Read More: Iraq declares 'magnificent victory' over ISIS militants in Tikrit stronghold

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS took control of large parts of the camp.

If they gain full control of the camp, they can potentially threaten the heart of the capital, the group warned.

UN aid workers have been sending food parcels into the camp, where thousands of civilians remain trapped and in desperate need of food and medicine.

The camp had witnessed fighting in the past between government forces and militants who control much of the camp.   

The Observatory reported heavy clashes in the camp between ISIS fighters and members of the Palestinian faction called Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.

Read More: IS kills 40 in Syria village attack

Anwar Raja, the spokesman for the pro-Assad Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, said that a militant entered the camp from the nearby neighborhood of Hajar Aswad where ISIS members have been based for months.

He added that Wednesday's push into the camp came in coordination between ISIS and their rivals in the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's branch in Syria.

"The Nusra Front opened the road for them in order to infiltrate the camp and several hours ago they entered Yarmouk," Mr Raja said.

Read More: IS beheads eight Shias in Syria

Jordan, meanwhile, closed its only functioning border crossing with Syria, following heavy clashes on the Syrian side between rebels and government forces.

A Syrian foreign ministry statement on Wednesday said it holds Jordanian authorities responsible for "obstructing the movement of trucks and passengers and any ensuing economic or social repercussions".

Mohammed al-Momani, a Jordanian government spokesman, said that the Nasib crossing was temporarily closed late Tuesday because of clashes nearby.

"It is important for us to keep the safety for the passengers and those who are trying to cross between the two countries," he said.

"So we decided to close the border temporarily, until things calm down. Then we will open it again."

The Nasib crossing is the only functioning crossing between Jordan and Syria and is considered a crucial gateway for Syria's government and for Syrian, Lebanese and Jordanian traders and merchants.


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