Devastation of Yarmouk Refugee camp for Palestinians near Damascus

Details on the  upheaval at Yarmouk Camp have been  inconsistent.  While sources such  as Al-Jazeera, Ma'an News Agency,  Haartez etc. claim the Palestinian  refugees at Yarmouk have joined the  foreign militants invading  Syria, many other sources that have been  closely monitoring the event  (including eye-witnesses) have confirmed  quite the opposite. 

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.

Yarmouk Camp.

Prior to the destruction.