Syria Offers to Arm Yarmouk's Palestinian Refugees to Fight ISIS

Syria Yarmouk
Residents wait to receive food aid at the besieged al-Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus, March 31, 2014, in this handout released by Syria's national news agency SANA. SANA news agency

The Assad regime has offered to arm Palestinians within the embattled Yarmouk refugee camp with weapons to beat back ISIS from the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, according to Palestinian officials.

The camp, where the Syrian and Palestinian population has shrunk from 150,000 to approximately 16,000 during the four-year-long Syrian civil war, was last week overrun by ISIS who took "large part" of the encampment, amid clashes with a Palestinian militia loyal to Hamas, Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.

The Syrian deputy foreign minister, Faisal Meqdad, met with a Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) delegation in the capital on Tuesday to extend the offer of assistance to the Palestinians fighting the radical Islamists.

"Syria and the PLO are determined to fight terrorism, which has reached Palestinian camps in Syria, notably Yarmouk," he said, as quoted by Syria's state news agency SANA.

He added that an agreement had been made between the Syrian government and Palestinian officials on a "unified position" for Palestinian fighters and the Syrian government, with the presence of ISIS causing a rapprochement between both sides. Details of this agreement were not announced, however.

PLO official Anwar Abdul Hadi, after attending the meetings, told journalists: "Syrian authorities are ready to support the Palestinian fighters in a number of ways, including militarily, to push IS out of the camp."

The camp was constructed during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war for Palestinian refugees fleeing the violence. In June last year, Syrian rebels battling president Bashar al-Assad agreed a ceasefire deal which allowed the siege on the camp to be lifted and basic goods to be delivered.

The government's offer of assistance to Palestinian refugees inside Yarmouk comes as they continue to indiscriminately barrel bomb the camp's civilian population under claims that it is targeting the extremists.

Salim Salamah, a Syrian refugee who spent 22 years in Yarmouk until late 2012 and is now head of the Palestinian League for Human Rights in Syria, revealed that civilian targets are being hit by the Assad regime, making it extremely difficult for refugees to move around the camp or even escape. Salamah confirms that at least one Palestinian refugee has been killed by the Syrian regime's shelling.

"If you manage to predict where the guerilla war is going to take place in the next hour or so, you can not really predict where a barrel bomb is going to land in the next hour or so," he notes.

"Yesterday, for example, one barrel bomb hit a cemetery, so you can imagine how indiscriminate and how arbitrary such a weapon can be."

He added that, in the last two years of the siege, access to water has been unavailable for nine months in total while, in the last year alone, 200 people have starved to death within the camp.

Activists inside Yarmouk, from the Palestinian Network of Civil Society in Syria, confirmed that militants are clashing in and around residential areas, a square at the camp's heart and even a secondary school. The group also revealed that the clashes were taking place between Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis and ISIS's rival Syrian jihadi group, Jabhat al-Nusra.

On Monday, the UN Security Council called for access to the camp because of the "grave situation" on the outskirts of Damascus with a lack of medical supplies, food and water.