PLO Strives to Ensure Safe Passage for Refugees at Syria’s Yarmouk Camp

Abbas is holding talks with Arab countries and international agencies including the United Nations; Palestinians also insist they will stay out of the Syrian civil war.


The Palestinians leadership on continued its efforts to ensure safe passage for Palestinian refugees still left in the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, most of which has been captured by Islamic State militants (also known as ISIS or ISIL) and is undergoing a humanitarian disaster.

Zakaria al-Agha, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Executive Committee, said at a press conference in Gaza that the Red Crescent and the UN refugee agency were coordinating efforts to ensure that people who left the camp would have a roof over their heads.

According to Agha, who is also the chairman of the PLO’s committee for refugee affairs, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is holding talks with Arab countries and international agencies including the United Nations. The goal is to prevent harm to Palestinians at Yarmouk and to get aid into the camp.

The PLO rejected allegations in recent days that Palestinian fighters stationed in camps mainly in Lebanon have gone to Syria and are fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and other factions that have taken over Yarmouk.

The PLO says the Palestinians should not intervene in the Syrian civil war, while there is only a small Palestinian force at Yarmouk, whose role is to protect Palestinian institutions.

“We have no intention of serving the people and countries that are supporting the armed militias with the goal of involving the refugee camps in the events in Syria or in Lebanon,” a PLO source said.

A number of Syrian and Lebanese media outlets linked to the Syrian regime have reported that armed Palestinians have entered the camps. According to one report, fighters from the Popular Front General Command and armed volunteers went in to stop the advance of Islamic State militants. The Palestinians reportedly received air cover from Syrian planes that bombed ISIS-controlled sites.

It was also reported that the Islamic State’s advance in the camp had been halted, enabling hundreds of civilians, mostly women and children, to leave, and for basic humanitarian aid to get in.

The commander of the Palestinian forces in the refugee camps in Lebanon, Munir al-Maqdah, denied that he had received orders to send forces to Yarmouk. Maqdah, who is subordinate to Fatah and the PLO, said that some Palestinian forces fighting ISIS were among Islamist organizations such as the Hamas-affiliated Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis.

“Our orders are to remain in the refugee camps, and if we receive other orders we are prepared to go out,” Maqdah said. “Meanwhile, there is no intention of intervening, but the political leadership is working to allow humanitarian aid in and the departure of civilians from the camps.”

Eyewitnesses have reported seeing executions of dozens of people, some of them armed Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis militants. On social media, ISIS supporters published photos of two beheaded men who reportedly belonged to Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Islamic State controls mainly the southern and western parts of the camp, while Palestinian fighters control the eastern and northern parts, closer to Damascus.

According to some reports, fighters from Syrian groups holding positions in the villages and neighborhoods near Yarmouk have helped the forces fighting ISIS to open roads and allow other fighters access, or to get civilians out of the path of the fighting.