Apocalyptic Yarmouk: after several weeks of sustained bombing & artillery fire ostensibly to rout ISIS, the Syrian army has taken over Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp about five miles from the center of Damascus. Part of the takeover involved bussing ISIS fighters out of the camp into the “Syrian desert,” wherever that is. Yarmouk is now indistinguishable from Raqqa after US carpet bombing to “liberate” the city from ISIS.
Palestinians in Syria are descendants of those displaced in the 1948 creation of the state of Israel & in later Israeli wars of displacement. Before 2011, there were 14 Palestinian refugee camps in Syria; Yarmouk was the largest. When the Syrian Arab Spring began that year, Palestinians in Syria were divided, partially between the youth in the camps & the older leadership of political groups like Hamas, & partially because of their vulnerable position in Syria as refugees. The political organizations tried to maintain an untenable neutral position on the conflict between the regime & the revolution but it was impossible since it directly impacted the Palestinian struggle against Israel. Taking a neutral position rather than siding with the regime angered the Assad regime which portrayed itself as a champion of Palestinians. Hamas, despite support from Iran & Hezbollah (both key allies of Assad), broke its alliance with Assad & sided with the Syrian uprising. Most of its leadership hightailed it out of Syria & those who remained were executed under suspicious circumstances. Other groups like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) sided with the regime & functioned in the refugee camps as auxiliary to the Syrian army by carrying out raids, patrolling the streets with machine guns, arresting supporters of the revolution & handing them over to Assad intelligence to deposit in the notorious gulag. The political situation in Yarmouk was already tense when in July 2012 Assad forces fired on protesters in Yarmouk & killed ten protesters. When thousands came out for the funeral services of those killed, the regime tried to nip resistance in the bud by launching its first of many military operations against the camp.
Before 2012, there were 160,000 Palestinians living in Yarmouk plus about 100,000 Syrians in the vicinity. When ISIS captured all of Yarmouk in 2015, the regime claimed ISIS could not have done so without the help of Hamas inside Yarmouk & also accused Hamas of funneling weapons to armed opposition groups. There were only 18,000 Palestinians still living there in 2015 because of the deterioration of conditions, ISIS violence, & regime & Russian barrel bombing. One year later, there were between 7,000 & 8,000 Palestinians still living there—mostly elderly residents unable to leave. Several weeks ago, Syrian & Russian forces launched a full-scale aerial & artillery campaign on Yarmouk to rout ISIS. It became the scene of the heaviest fighting in Syria since Eastern Ghouta was taken by the regime. Airstrikes leveled over 60-percent of the camp so that the few hundred elderly civilians remaining are in uninhabitable conditions.
The Assad regime & its apologists on the one hand blame Hamas & on the other herald this as a victory of the Syrian army over ISIS, a “Zionist proxy.” Doesn’t really make sense nor does it explain the widespread looting by the Syrian army going on right now. What the regime was really routing in Yarmouk was not just ISIS but those thousands of Palestinians not fooled by regime rhetoric about being the best defender of Palestinians in the Middle East.
(Photo of post-apocalyptic Yarmouk from Arabic sources on Twitter; photographer not identified)