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Syrian rebels join anti-IS fight in Yarmouk camp

Syrian rebel group Jaysh al-Islam praise Palestinian Aknaf Bait al-Maqd fighters in Yarmouk as they battle against IS militants
Palestinians in solidarity with the Palestinians living in Syria's Yarmouk camp on 5 April (AFP)

A Syrian rebel group has joined hands to fight the Islamic State insurgency into Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus.

In a video, that cannot be independently verified by MEE, and published by Jaysh al-Islam or the Islam Army, Syrian rebels stood in the face of the IS militants entering the camp.

“Jaysh al-Islam is preparing to protect Yarmouk Camp’s residents,” said a militant as the sound of bullets being fired was heard in the background, allegedly targeting IS militants in the camp.

Jaysh al-Islam formerly known Brigade of Islam is part of the Islamic Front and is a merger of several rebel groups involved in the Syrian crisis. It mainly operates in the Damascus neighbourhoods of Douma and the Eastern Ghouta.

Violence flared up inside the camp, which accommodates tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees, since Wednesday when IS militants stormed it and clashed with other militant groups.

Nusra and IS are fighting on the same side in Yarmouk after Aknaf Bait al-Maqdis, a Palestinian group based in the camp who are currently battling IS, failed to come to Nusra’s aid during a fight last month between the al-Qaeda linked group and the Syrian Free Army, a Yarmouk-based journalist told MEE this week.

The Palestinian Aknaf Bait al-Maqd fighters are traditionally allied to Syrian rebel groups opposing President Bashar al-Assad. 

In a statement issued by Jaysh al-Islam or the Islam Army on 5 April, the rebel group explained that as a result of this, several Nusra Front members defected.

A senior Palestinian official said Monday he was headed to Damascus for talks on helping residents inside Yarmouk.

Ahmed Majdalani, an official with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), told AFP that he would discuss with Syrian officials "ways to offer help to our people in the Yarmouk camp".

In a statement, the PLO called for "all sides to immediately agree to protect the camp from efforts to turn it into a battlefield".

It also called for civilians to have access to relief corridors and to humanitarian and medical assistance.

Majdalani accused IS militants of "seeking to control the whole camp" and to use it "as a springboard for attacks on the Syrian capital Damascus because of its strategic location".

"We don't need to turn our people into human shields and pay the price for a fight that they have no role in," Majdalani told AFP.

Around 2,000 people have been evacuated from the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus after IS seized large parts of it, a Palestinian official told AFP Sunday.

In a video published by Reuters on Sunday, Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk called on international powers to save them from "hunger" and "bullets". 

Anwar Abdul Hadi, a Palestine Liberation Organisation official said Syrian troops had helped in the evacuation, which came as Palestinian forces battled to hold back IS fighters who had reportedly, along with fighters from al-Nusra Front, captured around 90 percent of the camp as of Saturday.

Gaza solidarity with Syria's Yarmouk camp

In the meantime, hundreds of Palestinians on Sunday participated in a protest in solidarity with the residents of Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria.

"We are here to demand an end of fighting in the camp," Mohamed Abu Sharia, one of the protesters, told The Anadolu Agency.

The demonstrators who staged the protest at an invitation from Palestinian faction Hamas carried placards on which they called for rescuing the residents of the camp.

On Saturday, Hamas called for ending bloodshed and fighting in the camp.

"What happens in the camp is a real human crisis," Mohamed Abu Askar, a senior Hamas member, said during the protest.

He called on the Palestinian leadership, Arab states and the international community to act to save the camp.

Faction deputy leader Ismail Haniyeh said Yarmouk should be set apart from the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Syria has been ravaged by a deadly civil war since 2011, when Assad’s government violently cracked down on anti-government demonstrations.

Around 166 Palestinian residents of the camp starved to death in mid-2013 when Syrian government forces besieged it.

More than 220,000 people have been killed in the conflict to date, according to recent UN figures.

Prior to the Syrian conflict, Palestinians living in Syria were estimated at some 581,000 – one third of which were living in Yarmouk camp, according to UN figures.

However, thousands of Palestinians in Syria have fled to neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan, while hundreds of others managed to flee to the Gaza Strip as the conflict between Assad's forces and armed opposition groups raged on.

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