Hundreds rallied in the Gaza Strip, Saturday, in support of thousands of fellow Palestinians trapped in Syria’s Yarmouk camp, which has been largely overrun by fundamentalist militants.Hundreds, many waving Hamas flags, according to Ma’an, took to the streets in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis in a march organised by the
Islamic movement, the de facto power in the coastal enclave.
‘We say it for the thousandth time: hands off the Yarmouk camp, hands off our people, hands off the slaughtered, killed and starved,’ senior Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil told them.
He called on the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA to use all the influence at its disposal.
‘Your role today is…to exert your pressure in order to find a way out for those besieged,’ he said.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, a senior official in Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’ West Bank-based administration, decried in a statement ‘the persecution and slaughtering of Palestinian refugees… in a conflict that isn’t theirs.’
‘Reports of kidnappings, beheadings and mass killings are coming out from Yarmouk, which is under a brutal campaign of murder and occupation at the hands of the terrorist group of Daesh and its allies,’ he said, referring to the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda’s affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
A Syrian opposition official said on Saturday that thousands of Palestinian civilians are trapped in the Damascus camp Yarmouk, which is ringed by government forces as well.
‘The priority must be to save the Palestinian refugees in the camp by creating a safe passage for them out of the death trap that Yarmouk has become,’ said Erakat.
‘We call upon the United Nations and other involved organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as the Syrian government to take all necessary measures to immediately evacuate civilians. Time is quickly running out.’
Senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official Dr. Hanan Ashrawi called for a united international effort to stop what she called ‘a heartbreaking catastrophe.’
‘There is an urgent need for all countries to intervene immediately and work together to provide emergency relief and put an end to the bloodshed and the loss of innocent lives,’ she said in a statement.
‘We call on all members of the international community, particularly the United Nations, European Union and the United States, to safeguard the innocent people of Yarmouk and ensure that all sides commit to a permanent ceasefire.’
An official within the support network for the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria said, Sunday, that a Hamas-affiliated group is fighting the Islamic State in Yarmouk refugee camp.
Ayman Abu Hashem told Ma’an that the Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdes group was fighting IS despite a decision by PLO factions to remain neutral in the Syrian civil war.
Abu Hashem said that the group was once among the biggest armed groups in the camp, before becoming weakened in recent weeks. Only a few dozen remain fighting, he said.
But Farouk al-Rifai, a spokesman for the Palestinian civil society network in Syria, told Ma’an that Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdes fighters were joining some civilians in defending the camp.
He explained that there were 1,500 IS fighters stationed near Yarmouk who were surrounded by the Syrian army before they received reinforcements and 700 IS fighters managed to enter the camp.
Both Abu Hashem and al-Rifai said they had documented three beheadings in the camp, while three others were executed by shooting and 70 Palestinian refugees were apprehended for opposing IS.
The camp has also been targeted by Syrian regime airstrikes, as over 16 barrel bombs were dropped on it on Saturday alone, the officials reported.
Earlier Sunday, a Palestinian official said that around 2,000 people had been evacuated from Yarmouk after IS seized large parts of it.
‘Around 400 families, approximately 2,000 people, were able to leave the camp on Friday and Saturday via two secure roads to the Zahira district, which is under army control,’ said Anwar Abdul Hadi, a Palestine Liberation Organization official.
Abdul Hadi said Syrian troops had helped in the evacuation, which came as Palestinian forces battled to hold back IS fighters who have captured large swathes of the camp since Wednesday.
He said most of those evacuated from the camp were being hosted in government shelters, with at least 25 wounded taken to two hospitals in Damascus.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, confirmed that ‘hundreds’ of people had been evacuated from the camp.
The group said at least 26 people, including civilians as well as fighters from IS and Palestinian factions, had been killed in the camp since Wednesday.
Yarmouk, in south Damascus, was once home to 160,000 people, Syrians as well as Palestinians.
But its population has dwindled to just 18,000 since the uprising erupted in March 2011.
The camp is encircled by government forces and was under a tight siege for more than a year.
An agreement last year between rebels and the government, backed by Palestinian factions, led to an easing of the siege, but humanitarian access has remained limited.
IS fighters attacked the camp on Wednesday, and were initially largely repelled, but were subsequently able to capture large parts of it.
Palestinian officials have accused Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front of helping IS to enter the camp.
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