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IS loses ground in Syria's Yarmouk camp

Syria's al-Nusra Front vows 'to secure any human aid convoy sent to the Yarmouk by the UN or other NGOs' after IS militants leave camp
A general view of destruction in Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus where UNRWA say thousands are trapped and in dire need of aid on 21 January, 2014 (AFP/HO/UNRWA)

Militants from the Islamic State group have lost ground to Palestinian fighters in Syria's Yarmuk camp, Palestinian officials and a resident said on Tuesday.

IS fighters have retreated from much of the territory they seized in the camp in southern Damascus after entering it on 1 April, a resident using the pseudonym Samer told AFP.

"We haven't even seen any Daesh members in over three days," he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

The withdrawal was confirmed by an official from a pro-Syrian government Palestinian faction fighting against IS inside the camp.

"There are intermittent but ongoing clashes between Palestinian factions and IS," said Khaled Abdel Majid, head of the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, adding that IS had withdrawn from most of the neighbourhoods it previously controlled.

IS fighters were now confined largely to the southwest of the camp, with Palestinian factions - both pro- and anti-Syrian government - controlling most of the east and north of the camp, Palestinian sources said.

Syrian government forces are stationed outside the camp and have maintained a tight siege around it. 

A Syrian security source in Damascus also said "the Palestinian factions have made progress and were able to recapture key points... and the operation is ongoing."

The Palestinian forces inside the camp include the Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis group that is opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has fought alongside Syrian rebels.

Fighters from the Palestinian Fatah and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine groups are not participating, Palestinian officials said.

Both groups have said they want Yarmuk to remain neutral and do not want to be seen as taking a side in the conflict between Syria's government and opposition forces.

Once home to some 160,000 Palestinian and some Syrian residents, Yarmuk's population had shrunk to just 18,000 by the time IS entered the camp.

Aid agencies and the United Nations have warned of a serious humanitarian crisis and urged all parties to allow the creation of a humanitarian corridor.

Mustafa Ahmed, a pseudonym, told Channel 4 news that the anti-Assad rebel groups al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham now control Yarmouk, after IS pulled back to the southern suburb of Hajar al-Aswad from which they entered the camp.

"Today (Monday) an agreement has been signed by Jabhat Al Nusra and the relief workers in Yarmouk as well as to local leaders in which Jabhat Al Nusra vowed to secure any human aid convoy sent to the Yarmouk by the UN or other NGOs," he said.

"The IS fighters in the southern parts of the city are locals and not foreign fighters. They are former rebels who joined IS recently because of the siege of Yarmouk," he added.