Arab MKs: IS assault on Yarmouk ‘serves Israeli occupation’

Arab MKs: IS assault on Yarmouk ‘serves Israeli occupation’

In statement, Joint (Arab) List insists Palestinians must remain in refugee camps until ‘right of return’ is recognized

Members of the Joint (Arab) List at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on March 22, 2015. (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Members of the Joint (Arab) List at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on March 22, 2015. (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

The recent Islamic State assault on Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus “serves the Israeli occupation,” Knesset members from the Joint (Arab) List party said in a statement on Tuesday.

The MKs argued that that the Palestinian cause “unites all Arabs everywhere” and should give Palestinian refugees immunity from the internal strife of host states.

“What is happening in the Yarmouk refugee camp with IS fighters who have taken control of the area and are using the refugees as human shields, only serves the enemies of the Arab nations and the enemies of the Palestinian people and their just cause,” reads the statement, which was posted Tuesday to the Joint List’s Facebook page in Arabic. “It especially serves the Israeli occupation, which aims to settle the refugee issue as an internal, local problem of the camps.

The Islamic State launched an attack on the camp last week, reportedly killing and beheading Palestinian men and imprisoning women and children.The heavy clashes that have raged since then have added yet another layer of misery for up to 18,000 Yarmouk residents who have already endured desperate conditions marked by a lack of basic food, medicine and water.

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“What’s happening to the Palestinian people is a war crime against humanity and we hold UNRWA accountable, as they are expected to provide protection for those people. We ask the Red Cross and international NGOs to intervene urgently and help establish a humane passageway for the injured and the civilians in the camp,” read the Joint List’ statement.

Men walk past destroyed buildings in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian capital Damascus on April 6, 2015. Photo credit: AFP/ YOUSSEF KARWASHAN)
Men walk past destroyed buildings in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian capital Damascus on April 6, 2015. Photo credit: AFP/ YOUSSEF KARWASHAN)

The MKs also called on Arab nations, many of which are going through domestic unrest, to exempt Palestinian refugee camps from their struggles.

“Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and all other Arab countries need to remain neutral grounds that are exempt from wars and internal fighting. Because the Palestinians, who have suffered the woes of war, nakba [‘catastrophe,’ a reference to the 1948 war] and displacement, have a national cause that unites all Arabs everywhere, they will remain [in the camps] until there is a just resolution to their problem, i.e., the right of return to their homeland, Palestine. Therefore, they are not part of any civil war or internal divide in any of those countries. They should be a uniting factor for all Arab nations.”

The deteriorating situation In Yarmouk prompted the UN Security Council to call an emergency meeting Monday and receive a closed-door video-conference briefing by the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Pierre Krahenbuhl, who called the humanitarian situation in the camp “completely catastrophic.”

The Security Council called for life-saving assistance and safe evacuation for the Palestinians, protection for the refugees, and humanitarian access to the camp — and said it will look into further measures to help achieve this.

The council also condemned “the grave crimes” committed by the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda-affiliate al-Nusra Front – which reportedly aided the IS assault – against civilians in Yarmouk, and said their crimes must not go unpunished. IS and Nusra have fought bloody battles against each other in other parts of Syria, but appear to be cooperating in the attack on Yarmouk.

Nusra said in a statement it is taking a neutral stance in the camp.

The United Nations says the civilians trapped in Yarmouk include a large number of children. The camp has been under government siege for nearly two years, leading to starvation and illnesses. The camp also has witnessed several rounds of ferocious and deadly fighting between government forces and anti-Assad militants.

After heavy fighting on Sunday, sporadic clashes broke out on Monday in the camp, according to Hatem al-Dimashqi, an activist based in an area just south of Damascus, and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Both al-Dimashqi and the Observatory said Syrian government aircraft have been shelling the camp and dropping barrel bombs since Sunday.

The fighting inside the camp has largely pitted the Islamic State group against Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, a Palestinian faction opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad. Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman estimated that the Islamic State group now controls as much as 90 percent of Yarmouk, slowly squeezing out Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.

Krahenbuhl said the situation in Yarmouk “is more desperate than ever” as the result of the sudden upsurge in fighting by probably half a dozen opposition groups and some groups supporting the Syrian government.

He urged political and religious leaders with influence on the combatants to pressure them to observe international human rights and humanitarian law which requires protection of civilians.

The Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour urged the council to take action to ensure safe passage for the besieged refugees and appealed to all nations to help them relocate to safer areas in Syria or in other countries.

Mansour said about 2,000 of the estimated 18,000 refugees in Yarmouk had made it to safety on their own.

The Gaza-based terror group Hamas criticized the Palestinian Authority on Sunday for failing to help Palestinian refugees living in Syria,

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told The Associated Press in Barcelona late Sunday that the agency has not been able to send any food or convoys into the camp since the fighting started.

“That means that there is no food, there is no water and there is very little medicine,” he said. “The situation in the camp is beyond inhumane. People are holed up in their houses, there is fighting going on in the streets. There are reports of … bombardments. This has to stop and civilians must be evacuated.”

He said 93 people have been evacuated from the camp so far.

“Things were bad and things got worse when the fighting engulfed the camp,” Gunness said.

US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, speaking to reporters in Washington, condemned the Islamic State’s attack in Yarmouk.

“They’ve left the population on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe,” she said. “We are calling on all parties of the conflict to allow regular, uninterrupted humanitarian access to the population in Yarmouk.”

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