ISIS Takes Over Much of Palestinian Refugee Camp Near Damascus

If group gains full control of Al-Yarmouk, it will be jihadists' closest stronghold to heart of Assad regime.

Al-Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus on January 31, 2014.
Residents wait to receive food aid distributed by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) at the besieged al-Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus on January 31, 2014. Reuters

A leading Syrian human rights NGO as well as eyewitnesses said that by Wednesday afternoon, ISIS fighters had taken over large parts of a Damascus camp for Palestinian refugees and were threatening to assume full control of it.

The Al-Yarmouk camp lies eight kilometers south of the center of the Syrian capital. If ISIS takes charge there, it would mark the closest the jihadist organization has gotten to the heart of its target, the Assad regime.

Syrian jets were reported bombing near the camp to stop ISIS's advance.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting broke out between ISIS and the Palestinian jihadist group Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.

The camp, besieged by Assad regime forces for the last year, had fallen under the control of the Syrian rebel jihadist group Nusra Front. NBC-TV quoted an eyewitness saying Nusra Front was fighting alongside ISIS, which stormed the camp from the Hajar Aswad neighborhood immediately south of it.

ISIS "pushed from the Hajar Aswad area and Nusra fighters have joined them. They have pledged loyalty to Daesh," said the witness, using an Arabic term for ISIS.

Witnesses in the camp said ISIS made its move after several of its fighters were recently captured inside Al-Yarmouk by Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis and other groups.

Al-Yarmouk has become a focus of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, with many Palestinian refugees dying from the severe food and medicine shortages there.

Before the Syrian civil war, the camp had a population of 160,000; now it stands at 18,000, with former residents settling in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and others in Syria.