Yarmouk was not always ‘the deepest circle of hell’

Friday 24/04/2015
Palestinian refugees, including some who fled from Yarmouk camp in Damascus, hold an Arabic placard that reads “Yarmouk camp, steadfast camp, we do not want aid, we need you to stop the barrel bombs”.

For more than two years, the residents of the Yar­mouk Palestinian neigh­borhood on the outskirts of Damascus have been living under a tight siege with no water, electricity, heating and hardly any food. To keep warm in the harsh winter, they had to burn their furniture; beds, chairs, every­thing. Now parents stand helpless as their hungry children ask for milk or bread. Disease is spread­ing. Out of a initial population of 160,000, 18,000 Palestinians and Syrians, mostly children, the el­derly and disabled are still trapped inside Yarmouk waiting desper­ately for help. Attempts to flee the camp are met with sniper fire from warring factions.

This extreme suffering has not sparked international outrage as previous Palestinian tragedies did. Until recently, the situation in Yar­mouk was perceived as one of the multiple horror episodes of Syria’s ongoing war.

The wake up call came in early April when Al-Qaeda affiliated Al- Nusra Front allowed jihadists from the group which calls itself Islamic state (ISIS) to enter the camp from the southern district of Hajar al Aswad. This was perceived as a bid by ISIS to expand its control of the outskirts of Damascus. The ISIS incursion elicited a harsh military response from the Syr­ian army who control the northern and eastern sides of the camp. Pal­estinian groups, even those previ­ously hostile to the Syrian regime, united against ISIS. During the latest round of fighting, the main hospital of Yarmouk was bombed, further adding to the misery of ci­vilians.

Now UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, has posi­tioned its teams outside Yarmouk waiting for safe access to the camp with life sustaining aid to the resi­dents trapped inside.

UNRWA spokesman, Chris Gun­ness told The Arab Weekly the UN agency has “not been able to deliver aid to Yarmouk, that is inside the camp, since March 28 raising profound concerns for a population that has endured inhu­mane conditions through years of siege”. UNRWA has however de­livered in the past few days food, mattresses, blankets and medical supplies to 3000 Palestinians who sought refuge in areas surround­ing the camp.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described Yarmouk this month as the “deepest circle of hell”, but it was not always so. It was once a bustling Damascus suburb with cement block build­ings, narrow alleyways, shops, of­fices and banks.

It was home to many doctors, engineers and civil servants. It was even dubbed the capital of the diaspora by its Palestinians resi­dents, mostly the descendants of refugees from Nazareth, Safad and Acre in pre-1948 Palestine. Now once more they have no place to call home.