Palestinian civilians stranded in Yarmouk Camp in southern Damascus. File photo
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Damascus, Syria – On Saturday, militant fighters of the Islamic State (IS/ISIL) took control of most of the Yarmouk Camp for Palestinian refugees on the outskirts of Damascus.
In Yarmouk, more than 18,000 civilians –mostly Palestinian refugees– have suffered years of bombing, army siege and militia control.
“Following fierce clashes with rebels of the Aknaf Bait al-Maqdis, IS terrorists were able to enter the Yarmouk district and raise their black flag on major buildings,” Yassir Naseef, a Syrian opposition activist told ARA News in Tadamoun –on the outskirts of Yarmouk.
“They (IS militants) killed dozens of rebels, while the rest were forced to withdraw from the area on Saturday, Naseef added. “The Islamic State now possesses a strategic location from which it can easily attack the security and military headquarters of the regime.”
The IS control of Yarmouk gives the group a major presence in the Syrian capital. Consequently, the Islamic State is now only a few kilometers from President Bashar al-Assad’s seat of power.
The United Nations has said it is extremely concerned about the safety and protection of Syrians and Palestinians in the camp. Civilians trapped there have long suffered from a government siege that has led to starvation and disease.
“The situation in Yarmouk is an affront to the humanity of all of us, a source of universal shame,” U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman Chris Gunness was quoted by Reuters on Saturday.
“Yarmouk is a test, a challenge for the international community. We must not fail. The credibility of the international system itself is at stake,” he reportedly said.
About half a million Palestinian refugees resided in Yarmouk before the outbreak of the four year war civil in Syria.
Reporting by: Laila Majdalawi