This report might lead you to think that Yarmouk has been under siege by one "al-Qaeda-linked" group and now they have been joined in that siege by the worst al-Qaeda like group, the Islamic State, and all of this dangerously close to Damascus, Syria's capital. If it does, it leads you far from reality. I have made bold the sentence above in which that lie was deftly slipped into the narrative.
UNRWA: Crisis in ISIL-Controlled Palestinian Refugee Camp
The United Nations has demanded access to a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria invaded by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, warning of a humanitarian catastrophe. About 18,000 people have been trapped in Yarmouk, just a few miles outside the capital Damascus, the stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. There were reports of sporadic fighting Monday between Palestinian fighters and ISIL militants. ISIL is reportedly collaborating with rivals from the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front to maintain its siege of the camp. Before boarding a flight earlier today, Christopher Gunness, spokesperson for the the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, spoke to Democracy Now! and described the situation.
Christopher Gunness: "The situation in Yarmouk is beyond inhumane. The camp has descended into levels of inhumanity which are unknown even in Yarmouk, and this was a society in which women died in childbirth for lack of medicine, and children died of malnutrition. Now ISIS have moved into the camp and people are cowering in their battered homes, too terrified to go outside. We in UNRWA have not had access since the fighting started, so there is no U.N. food, no U.N. water, no U.N. medicine. Electricity is in very, very short supply. It is astonishing that the civilized world can stand by while 18,000 civilians including 3,500 children can face potential imminent slaughter and do nothing."
Democracy Now has been all over the Yarmouk story ever since the Islamic State invaded and became the latest plague on the Palestinian refugees still left in the camp. Since the beginning of the month it has run five stories on the crisis, this one, U.N.: "Grave and Desperate" Crisis inside Palestinian Refugee Camp under ISIS Control on Tuesday, Islamic State Fighters Seize Large Parts of Palestinian Refugee Camp in Syria on last Thursday, a new one this Thursday, Red Cross Demands Immediate Access to Besieged Yarmouk Camp in Syria, in which Amy Goodman tell us Yarmouk "is under siege by the Islamic State" and never mentions the Assad regime or its barrel-bomb dropping helicopters, and another headline today, U.N.: Yarmouk Refugee Camp in "Deepest Circle of Hell".
* all pictures are from Yarmouk prior to the IS invasion and have appeared in this blog before.
|Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp reduced to rubble by Assad's bombardment|Syrian Military Surrounds Palestinian Refugee Camp
The Syrian military has surrounded a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus one day after launching air strikes that killed at least eight people. The standoff at the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp could see new fighting between Syrian forces and rebels controlling the camp.
|Bringing food into Yarmouk|
The blockade has been Assad's attempt to starve them into submission. The bombardment has been his attempt to kill them because they won't. For years now the civilized world, including Democracy Now, has stood by and done nothing while thousands of civilians including hundreds of children have been slaughtered in Yarmouk. For that matter, the same could be said about the rest of Syria.
Syria: Clerics Permit Eating of Dogs, Cats
amid Starvation in Rebel-Held Areas
In a lesser-told side of Syria’s civil war, Muslim clerics have reportedly issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, allowing people to eat dogs, cats and donkeys as residents of rebel-held South Damascus face starvation conditions. The Financial Times reports areas, including parts of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, have faced an almost total blockade of supplies since the summer, leaving some residents to subsist on leaves, animal feed and the contents of garbage bins. Signs on pro-government checkpoints read "hunger or kneel." The area is just a short drive from where United Nations weapons inspectors are staying as they carry out an international mandate to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal.
|Women come to collect food baskets in Yarmouk|
After two years under regime blockade, Isil's militants arrived last week, deepening the humanitarian nightmare.What's wrong with this picture? How did IS just "arrive" at a place that is surrounded and under siege by the Assad regime? As the article goes on to point out, coming and going to Yarmouk ain't easy:
A Syrian aid worker living near Yarmouk described his desperate search to find openings through which to smuggle the dying.The article goes on to describe the crisis:
No official aid convoy has been able to break the siege since December. A spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, Chris Gunness, described the conditions as "beyond inhumane".
Fighting inside Yarmouk this week has largely pitted Isil against Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, a Palestinian faction opposed to Mr Assad. Local residents say the jihadists now control at least 80 per cent of the neighbourhood. Other estimates put the area the jihadists control at more than 90 per cent of the entire camp, which is one square mile in size.
According to Palestinian Network of Civil Society Organizations in Syria, the surrounding area had been hit by 23 barrel bombs and six air strikes since Saturday, as the regime has lashed out at positions held by Palestinian factions and other rebel groups.
Mr Assad's air force has focused fewer attacks on Isil targets, a Western diplomat told The Telegraph. The Syrian president has repeatedly been accused of abetting the group's rise while portraying himself as a bulwark against any jihadist takeover.
|People queueing to collect food baskets in Yarmouk|
Regular readers of this blog know that I have gone into great detail about the connections of the Assad regime to IS, alias ISIS or ISIL, in many posts. I would highlight these:
- Are ISIS and Assad enemies in Syria?
- Man behind the Curtain for al-Qaeda in Syria is Assad
- Bashar al-Jihad: Is ISIS a child of the regime?
The short story is that the regime pro-actively helped to create IS. In the past Assad used it as a tool against the US occupation of neighbouring Iraq and today he uses it as a tool against the Syrian revolution. While I don't think the regime controls IS, I think it has "influence" including Syrian security officers embedded in leading positions.
|Palestinians in Yarmouk talk to reporter|
Assad has also benefited from IS attacks on the rebel opposition, even while IS atrocities tarnish the Syrian revolutionary movement, so again the question has to be asked. How was IS able to "invade" this surrounded camp?
We can see how the Assad regime is playing this Yarmouk crisis for maximum benefit. Part of the deal it is selling is that there are only two choices for Syria: IS or Assad. Bashar al-Assad is using IS to scare everybody, both inside Syria and internationally, into supporting his continued rule as the only viable alternative to the monster that he helped to create.
Sadly, many in the "Left" have supported this fascist dictator from the beginning. In the past, many of the imperialists, US President Obama included, have hidden their closet support for tyranny behind the rhetoric of democracy. Now even they are becoming comfortable saying Assad must stay now that the IS threat has taken center stage.
|He's choked with tears & couldn't talk just said "don't forget us in here."|
This is Assad's grand strategy and it is working.
|Diyala and Halla want to leave the camp.|
Remarkably, the advance of the widely feared jihadi movement that has terrorized communities across Syria and Iraq with its brutal and mass executions met no resistance from nearby Syrian military units even though IS positions now are established just a few kilometres from Bashar al-Assad’s presidential palace.This is the very different story than the one Amy Goodman is telling with her tale that "ISIL is reportedly collaborating with rivals from the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front." As it turns out, the story we heard on Democracy Now is exactly the one Bashar al-Assad would want to be told, one in which IS and al Nusra are partners in putting Yarmouk under siege and he and his regime are the innocent by-standers. In fact, Bashar al-Assad would likely have no complaint with Amy's handling of the Yarmouk story altogether. She gave the years of regime siege and slaughter minimal coverage, and now that the regime is promoting the IS invasion of Yarmouk, she is all over the story but with reports that won't make Bashar blush.
Syrian troops have set their sights on other rebel targets, it would seem, such as the al-Qaeda-connected Nusra Front, and are counting on Islamic State’s presence to, in effect, shore up the regime’s southern defences.
In a peculiar turn, Islamic State has indicated it prefers to refrain from attacking the Assad regime as it concentrates on building its caliphate state-within-a-state.
It is “crucial for Assad” to damage the Nusra Front’s credibility, said Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.
In what she describes as “a wily and tactical manoeuvre,” the Syrian regime actually facilitated IS access to Yarmouk in order to embarrass the Nusra Front leaders.
The regime is “enabling IS access to the south because this serves the regime’s aim of crushing the moderate opposition in the area,” Ms. Khatib concludes.
Now in one of his most cynical moves to date, and that's saying a lot, Bashar al-Assad is offering to help the Palestinians fight IS in Yarmouk. The Middle East Eye reported Tuesday:
The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Tuesday that it is ready to offer Palestinians firepower to support their battle with the Islamic State (IS) group in a refugee camp devastated by clashes and aerial attacks.This is classic Bashar at his best. The good doctor first kicks dirt in your eye and then offers to pick it out. This has been his game plan with IS all along. One of the major reasons he helped the jihadist "rat-line" through Syria florish during the Iraq War was so that he could use his power to shut it down as a bargaining chip with Bush. When the Syrian Revolution threaten to take away all in 2011, he dusted the old tool off again and helped it florish, never minding that heads would roll, as long as it wasn't his. Now he offers his continued brutal rule as the indispensable remedy to the monster he help create. What we have seen in Yarmouk this month is how he plays this game on a local scale, and I find it disturbing to see how an icon of the Left is supporting his play.
|Diyala and daughter Halla, "Get me out of here … save my daughter."|
UPDATE: ISIS Losing in Yarmouk!
From Lindsey Hilsum at Channel 4, we have:
Islamic State 'withdraws from Yarmouk camp'
13 April 2015
They are still fighting Aknaf Beit al Maqdis, a local militia allied to Hamas, on the outskirts of Yarmouk.
"Today there are no more IS militants inside Yarmouk," said "Mustafa Ahmed", who uses a pseudonym to disguise his identity. "Most of the militants are at the frontline between IS and the Aknaf brigades in the south eastern part near the hospital."
Last Wednesday night Syrian government aircraft dropped barrel bombs on the Palestine Hospital, the only functioning healthcare facility in Yarmouk, after IS militants started to use it as a base. More...
Naharnet Newsdesk is reporting:
IS Loses Ground in Syria's Yarmuk Camp
14 April 2015
Jihadists from the Islamic State group have lost ground to Palestinian fighters in Syria's Yarmuk camp, Palestinian officials and a resident said on Tuesday.
U.N. officials in Syria said, meanwhile, they were discussing ways of getting humanitarian aid into the camp and helping residents who have fled Yarmuk.
IS fighters have retreated from much of the territory they seized in the camp in southern Damascus after entering it on April 1, a resident calling himself Samer told AFP.
"We haven't even seen any Daesh members in over three days," he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
The withdrawal was confirmed by an official from a pro-Syrian regime Palestinian faction fighting against IS inside Yarmuk.
"There are intermittent but ongoing clashes between Palestinian factions and IS," said Khaled Abdel Majid, head of the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, adding that IS had withdrawn from most of the neighborhoods it previously controlled.
IS fighters were now confined largely to the camp's southwest, with Palestinian factions -- both pro- and anti-Syrian regime -- controlling most of the east and north, Palestinian sources said. More...