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Arabic press round-up: IS seizes Yarmouk, draws closer to Damascus

With intense fighting between IS and Nusra Front in the Palestinian camp, residents demand help as Arabic media asks who is winning
The Yarmouk camp has been the scene of fierce fighting for several years (AFP)

The Palestinian Yarmouk refugees camp in southern Damascus has seen renewed fighting between the militant Nusra Front and Islamic State (IS) groups, leaving the camp's residents between the hammer and the anvil.

The residents of the camps have been victims of the Syrian civil war for many years. Assad forces imposed a tight siege around the camp at the start of the uprising. Later both IS and Nusra infiltrated the camp and now control most of it.

As IS moves closer to gaining a foothold in the capital Damascus, Arabic media focused on the plight of Palestinian refugees and the role of Iran and the Assad government and their “probable alliance” with IS.

Aljazeera Arabic website published a feature by Solafa Aljboor highlighting the current fighting and the suffering it has inflicted on the camp residents.

“The regime is before us while the different armed militias are behind us. It is as if the world has narrowed and they only found our already destroyed camp to fight for. They turned our life to hell,” one of the residents told Aljboor

Meanwhile, Action Group For Palestinian in Syria, a media and documentary organisation dedicated to observing the conditions of Palestinians in Syria, issued a statement warning of a humanitarian crisis in the camp due to the fierce fighting between the two groups. The group reported that so far five residents have been killed since the start of the fighting while many were wounded.

The Palestinian Quds News Network published an editorial piece titled, “As fighting resumes, four humanitarian demands from Yarmouk camp residents.” The demands, according to Quds, are: an end to the daily fighting for six hours; resupplying water to the camp; PLO and UNRWA to play a central role in solving residents’ problems; and the Syrian/Palestinian media outlets to convey their plight.

Palestinian Safa News Agency provided an analysis demonstrating how IS has taken full control of the camp. The agency stated, “some militants from the Nusra Front announced their allegiance to IS which helped the organisation to fully capture the camp.”

The Jordanian governmental news agency Petra reported the statements of PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat who called for international protection for Palestinian refugees in the camp. “We call on UNRWA and other UN agencies to secure the basic necessities of the people besieged in the camp… the solution for the plight of those people is in implementing UN resolution 194,” said Erekat, referring to the original 1948 resolution backing Palestinians' return to their historic home in Israeli-occupied Palestine.

Donia Al-Watn news website observed the popular reaction in Palestine towards what’s happening in Yarmouk. An article by Fayez Abou Eid reported that social media activists launched two hashtags to show solidarity with the refugee camp, #Saveyarmoukcampfromgenocide and #Yarmoukcampisburining. Fayez added in his article that although IS and Nusra are fighting each other right now, Nusra had facilitated the entry of IS into the camp in April 2015.

Arab Israeli news website Arab48 published an analysis by Qusai Amama titled, “The last battle in Yarmouk, who is there for the refugees?” Qusai claimed that IS is run by the Iranians and Syrians and that was why, for example, some wounded IS fighters were taken to hospitals in Damascus.

Amama published a statement circulated by IS in the camp asking everyone to repent and showing allegiance, “The danger lies in the fact that IS opponents are not the members of Nusra only but any individual refusing to give allegiance to the organisation,” said Amama.

Hezbollah’s Almanar TV, known for its steadfast support for the Assad government said that there were negotiations between some Palestinian groups in the camp with the Syrian government to evacuate some families on the outskirts of the camp. Al Manar added that the Syrian army and some Palestinian groups would not allow IS to take control of the camp because of its proximity to capital Damascus.

Hamas’s Gaza-based newspaper, Falsteen reported the position of UNRWA which called on all sides to stop fighting in the camp which is doubling the suffering of its residents.

Egyptian newspaper Elwatnnews indicated that people of the camp had called on the Syrian government not to “humiliate them by using water as a weapon against them”, in reference to a statement made earlier by camp residents for all fighting parties to spare the camp from further violence and siege.

The Palestinian Islamic Movement’s news and analysis website published an article analysing the importance of the IS campaign against Yarmouk. Titled, “With ISIS controlling most of the camp, it is now closer to the heart of Damascus,” the article ended with an open question about the possibility of the Syrian army capturing the camp and defeating IS or the group drawing ever closer to the Syrian capital.