Palestinians, Assad to join forces to oust Islamic State from Yarmouk

Unclear whether all factions in embattled Damascus refugee camp will work with Syrian regime forces against jihadi group

Men walk past destroyed buildings in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian capital Damascus on April 6, 2015. (AFP/Youssef Karwashan)
Men walk past destroyed buildings in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian capital Damascus on April 6, 2015. (AFP/Youssef Karwashan)

BEIRUT — A senior Palestinian official said Thursday that an agreement has been reached with the Syrian government to use military force to expel Islamic State militants from an embattled Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus.

Islamic State fighters overran much of the Yarmouk camp last week, marking the extremists’ deepest foray yet into the Syrian capital. The IS incursion in the latest trial for Yarmouk and its estimated 18,000 remaining residents, who have already survived a devastating two-year government siege, starvation and disease.

“We have agreed with the Syrian government on ways to force the terrorist group IS out of the Yarmouk refugee camp,” Ahmad Majdalani, the labor minister in the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, told the Voice of Palestine Radio. “The military solution is the only one to force these terrorists out of the camp.”

Majdalani, who is leading a West Bank delegation to Damascus to address the crisis, told reporters in the Syrian capital that all Palestinian factions have agreed to continue consultations with the Syrian leadership and to form a joint operation room with government forces.

But it was unclear who exactly had signed onto the plan. Yarmouk is home to factions that support Syrian President Bashar Assad and groups that oppose him, and it was unclear whether Palestinians from both sides of the divide had indeed agreed to join forces.

There was no immediate word from the main Palestinian faction fighting the Islamic State group in Yarmouk, known as Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis. The group is opposed to Assad and affiliated with Hamas.

Majdalani also said the Syrian government has agreed to ensure safe passage to refugees in Yarmouk and to provide them with shelter outside the camp.

Yarmouk was the main refugee camp established in Syria for Palestinians who fled the 1948 war that attended Israel’s creation. Before the Syrian civil war it was a sprawling, built-up neighborhood that was home to tens of thousands of Palestinians and Syrians alike.

The latest fighting in Yarmouk has worsened an already desperate situation for civilians still in the camp. On Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross joined a growing chorus of aid groups calling for immediate access for humanitarian aid to Yarmouk.

The ICRC said emergency medical care is “urgently needed” for the estimated 18,000 people still inside the camp, and warned that humanitarian needs “are growing by the day.” It called on the armed factions to allow the “immediate and unimpeded passage” of humanitarian aid and to permit civilians who wish to flee to be able to do so.

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