Wednesday 13 December 2017

Isil storms refugee camp in Damascus in surprise raid

The bombed out city of Idib in Syria.
The bombed out city of Idib in Syria.

Magdy Samaan Damascus

Jihadists from Isil stormed the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near central Damascus yesterday, capturing large parts of the camp and demonstrating the group's ability to attack the Syrian capital.

Isil fighters launched a lightning assault on the camp, said Anwar Abdel Hadi, the Palestine Liberation Organisation's political affairs director in Damascus.

"They took over the majority of the camp," he said, adding that fierce clashes were continuing inside on Wednesday night. Yarmouk, which is less than a square mile in size, had been largely under the control of non-jihadist Islamist rebel groups.

"Isil has stormed some neighbourhoods of Yarmouk camp this morning. They are fighting the Beit al-Maqdisi rebel group," said an activist with the Yarmouk News Agency, who asked for his name not to be used. "They have seized parts of the south and west of the camp."

Abo Yasser, an activist from Damascus said the emir, or leader, of Isil's faction in the area is called Abu Sayagh Farameh, who comes from the capital.

The group "first fired rockets" on the camp before storming it, another resident of Yarmouk who also asked not to be named, said. The Syria regime also reacted to the attack by adding it's own barrage of artillery into the mix, adding to the civilian casualty count.

The local activist said: "The regime forces are shelling the camp with mortars. They hit the emergency entrance for Palestine hospital. Some civilians were killed from it."

Isil has tried in the past to expand its area of control into Yarmouk, which until now has been run by a coalition of rebel factions, but were not able to maintain control.

"A few months ago Isil controlled the camp. They had check points set up," said the activist from the Yarmouk News Agency. "They wanted to force the Islamic Sharia on the residents. They tried to forbid smoking and demanded that women cover themselves. The other rebels in the camp forced them out."

The attack is the latest tragedy to befall this, now largely destroyed, suburb of Damascus where scores of civilians have already starved to death under a regime siege that has allowed aid supplies through only sporadically.

If the jihadists manage to gain complete control of the camp, they will be able to target the Assad regime from close quarters. The camp is six miles from downtown Damascus.

Isil have been forced back in areas of central Iraq, with Iraqi troops and allied militia seizing control of much of Tikrit in recent days.

But they have expanded their area of operation in Syria, despite coalition air raids.

Isil had already established a presence in East Ghouta, east of the city centre, and in Hajar Aswad next to the camp.

Yarmouk was once home to 150,000 people, mostly long-term Palestinian refugees, and despite its name was more of a Damascus suburb than a camp. It was first established for Palestinians fleeing the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Since the Syrian civil war began, its population has shrunk to 18,000. A photograph of its starving residents packing a central street while waiting for a UN aid convoy became one of the defining pictures of the last four years of conflict.

Fighters were trying to take control of the border crossing from Syrian authorities.

The Nasib crossing is the only functioning crossing between Jordan and Syria and is considered a crucial gateway for Syria's government.

(© Daily Telegraph London)

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