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Palestinian youth brave Yarmouk siege with humour

Young Palestinians, at risk of being overrun by Islamic State and under government siege since 2012, give 'weight-loss' advice in new video
Men walk past destroyed buildings in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian capital Damascus on 6 April (AFP)

A video reportedly from inside the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus shows Palestinian youths trying to brave the miserable conditions caused by a prolonged government siege and a recent infiltration by Islamic State (IS) militants, who are now controlling much of the camp.

The recording, which is not independently verified, appears to be recent, with the participants mentioning the militants' entrance into the camp.  

IS militants took control of 90 percent of the camp - which was established in the 1950s to house Palestinian refugees - last week, although they have since lost some ground. 

The area had previously been under siege by the government of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since December 2012, and was said to be "on the brink of starvation" because of a blockade preventing food and goods from entering.

The video begins with two young men talking to the camera, with one of them saying: "I hope you won't think this video will be showing people and children [starving to death], as is shown on [the Gaza-based] al-Quds satellite TV channel."

"No, we are in the Yarmouk camp, the camp of plentifulness," he added. "Take a look at the floor," said the man as the camera shows water in the street. "This is not water. This is an excess of cooking [flooding the streets]."

The youth then moved on to mockingly give his viewers advice on how to lose weight.

"Would you like to lose weight? Green tea won't work, nor will ginger … just come to Yarmouk camp for five months, in each month you'll lose 9kg," he said, adding the Arabic proverb: "Ask someone with experience instead of asking a doctor."  

The youth passed by a damaged mosque, which one of them pointed to saying: "Here's Palestine Mosque … hope you don't think that it was ever shelled. No, never."

One of the youth then said, apparently quoting someone: "All the children of the world were created as children, except the children of Yarmouk were created as heroes."

"God damn the person who came up with that quote ... why did we have to become heroes and stay in the camp?" one asked. The second replied: "We should have migrated  ... to areas that have food … but they told us that the rent was high."

On the rising food prices, one noted that the price of "rice outside (Yarmouk camp) is 120 [Syrian Dinars], while here it is 10,000 [Syrian Dinars]. But we are happy here … look at the peaceful people … singing and dancing."

The two men then passed by a shop, and directed the camera to its owner.   

"The guy's prices were high even before the crisis," one said, before approaching the smiling shop owner to say hello.

Despite the cheerful mood that they are trying to put up, it is clear from the footage how dire their surroundings are. They pointed to a cyclist, saying that his bike actually works on petrol.

"We ask the troublesome channels that claim Yarmouk camp is under siege to stop reporting that. It is 'absolutely' [said in English] not true," one said.

"It's true that my grandmother died of hunger but not because the camp was under siege but because my grandfather was so stingy - he never allowed her near the fridge," he added.  

The two, with a number of others, were heading towards the flat of someone named Mr Ayham, where they are all invited for lunch.

"We are invited to Mr Ayham's place. He has linked his satellite dish to the bin downstairs so that he can view dirty channels," one of the youths in the video said.  

Then they gather in a room and sing together joyfully, as one holds the guitar. After a short while a small tray is shown holding tiny portions of food, to which they sing: "This is the reward of the steadfast people who have sacrificed their lives."

Then at end of the video, one of the youth told a timely joke. "A cardboard box went to meet another cardboard box; it discovered that it was empty."

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