Initially for a while Yarmouk Camp followed a neutral approach fearing a backlash by thousands of armed militants infiltrating into Syria. The Camp had since long been one of their prime targets. Their attacks around Yarmouk went on non-stop for months since 2011. Finally on December 2012, Al-Nusra and FSA overran most parts of it; consequently, Palestinian neutrality at the Camp collapsed completely and volunteers of the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) with its base at Yarmouk took up arms against the militants alongside the Syrian Arab Army.
A leader of the PFLP told Al-Akhbar "The FSA has taken over large parts of the camp, including areas that once belonged to the General Command, forcing many of our fighters to retreat. If the camp falls under the control of the FSA and the jihadi Islamists, it will become a launching pad for military operations, and it is the camp residents who will pay a heavy price."
According to earlier reports, some militants surrendered to the authorities in November following a siege imposed on the armed groups and an amnesty decree issued by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Yet the turmoil is far from over. The situation within the Camp at present is dire. Dozens of terrorists are entrenched in the camp, some affiliated to al-Qaeda and others to the so-called Free Syrian Army.
Leaders of the Syrian based Palestinian faction have been engaged in talks with the militants to convince them either to leave the camp or surrender to the Syrian Army. According to Khaled Abdul Majid, one of the leaders of the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine, the militants have begun showing willingness to move out of the camp. However, other sources have reported that that the terrorists have refused to negotiate with Palestinian representatives claiming that the General Command of the PFLP had no authority for negotiations on Syrian soil. Since the siege still continues, it's hard to confirm which story is closer to the truth.
Syria hosts at least half a million Palestinian refugees, of which more than 150,000 were living in Yarmouk. There were approximately 1.5 million Palestinians and Syrians residents in and around Yarmouk Camp which turned into one of the most devastating battle zones near Damascus when unrest broke out in the country in 2011.
Yarmouk Camp used to be an active community of Palestinian refugees with plenty of hustle and bustle. These residents had been leading normal, happy and secure lives for years, with all requirements in accordance with the welfare state-infrastructure of Syria which included healthcare, schooling and transportation. Many of them also found suitable employment at offices and various workplaces. Some earned substantially working on agricultural lands. Marriages between Palestinians and Syrians were common. Palestinians didn't suffer any backlash when Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, decided to quit Syria and join Qatar. Though like Lebanon, Syria didn't grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees, unlike Lebanon, it didn't place any restrictions on them for seeking jobs or owning properties.
When foreign-backed militants stormed the refugee Camp more than a year ago, thousands of Palestinians and Syrians in and around the Camp were displaced.
Today, Yarmouk Camp wears an utterly desolate look as it stands in ruins. The tall apartment buildings are pockmarked with bullets, and the premises are strewn with rubble and pieces of wreckage of household belongings. Majority of the 150,000 refugees have left. Less than 10,000 remain who are either too poor or too old to flee .... and they are desperately in need of help with extreme shortage of food and water. Living conditions in the Camp have crumpled completely. Electricity of the entire area has been cut. The rebels won't allow anyone to leave. Propaganda by their spokespersons are painting a different picture with claims that the residents of Yarmouk camp along with the rebels are holed up in the Camp and besieged by Government forces.
Efforts by the Syrian Army have steadily been to free Yarmouk Camp from the clutches of the rebels. Many Palestinian refugees who volunteered to fight have joined the Syrian Army and they have jointly made significant gains until recently - early 2014. Khaled Abdul Majid of the PFLP who appeared on Press TV a few days ago, stating that they have been trying to free Yarmouk from the militants with constant negotiations would not have made such statements if the residents of the camp had taken up arms against the Syrian Government.
The most important reason the foreign militants are adamant not to leave Yarmouk Camp is it's close geographical proximity with Damascus.
A Palestinian refugee told a Press TV correspondent on January 5th at the camp: "We are trying to regain control of the camp and regain our houses and pushed them (militants) outside the camp. I cannot show my face because there are terrorists inside the camp and I have family members. You can see the destruction caused by the terrorists (he said pointing towards the bullet holes in the walls). No one would cause such destruction to their own house; so, these people are not from the camp.”
Fighting in Yarmouk Camp is taking place from within buildings and rooms. Some Palestinian refugees who had already escaped from the Camp are going back discreetly for short visits to check on their homes through narrow streets and alleys in between the high buildings. Palestinian volunteer fighters along with SAA have been advancing into the Camp slowly, facing the militants who have turned the entire camp into a bunker. A Press TV correspondent explains, "The frontlines are so close that either side can only whisper not to be heard while traveling in a maze of apartments that allow them to travel for hundreds of meters and maybe kilometers without setting a foot on a street. "
Yarmouk in summer of 2013.
Yarmouk camp - the tremendous destruction.
Palestinian refugees urge militants to leave.
Prior to the destruction.