Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk camp south of Damascus protested Sunday following a claim made the day before by Syria’s envoy to the United Nations that the camp had been vacated and only terrorists and some male civilians remain.
Bashar Ja’afari told the UN Security Council during a meeting on the four-year-long crisis in Syria that “Today there are only 1,000 people in Yarmouk and not 18,000 as has been said — no child amongst them and no woman amongst them. Terrorists and some male citizens only.”
Ja’afari said the accusations that the Syrian government was targeting civilians with barrel bombs was a gross mischaracterization of its attempts to protect citizens from the spread of terror groups in the country.
He refuted criticism that government forces had besieged Yarmouk camp, stating, “How could it be possible that the camp is besieged by the government, while ISIL has managed to enter it with the help of al-Nusra Front, which is originally present in the camp?”
The diplomat’s remarks refer to how the armed group known alternately as the Islamic State or ISIS or ISIL took over parts of Yarmouk camp earlier this month, with the apparent collusion of the al-Qaida-aligned group Jabhat al-Nusra, which has had a longer presence in the camp.
Yarmouk became an arena of fierce battle between opposition and government forces after the infiltration of rebel groups in the camp in late 2012, causing most of its more than 150,000 residents to flee.
“We are not terrorists”
In a video appeal to the international community posted on Facebook this week, an elder in Yarmouk gestures to a crowd gathered in the camp, stating: “Mr. Ja’afari told you that there are no children, no old men, no women, [that] there are 1,000 men only. Look here please. This is Yarmouk camp.”
(The video can be viewed at the top of this page.)
In a plea to Ja’afari, the man adds, “Stop your explosive barrels … We are not terrorists, we are not Daesh,” referring to the Islamic State group.
The monitoring project Action Group for Palestinians in Syria stated on Tuesday that Syrian planes were dropping barrel bombs on the camp and that violent clashes were underway between government forces and allies against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.
The group added that approximately 12,000 residents remain in the camp.
The media group Yarmouk 63, which published the above video on its Facebook page, also posted an audio clip on SoundCloud of a woman in the camp reacting in anger to Ja’afari’s claims to the Security Council.
The woman states that civilians are trapped in their homes and appeals for urgent efforts to liberate the people in the camp from their ordeal.
Yarmouk 63 also posted this photo on Tuesday with the caption “There are civilians in Yarmouk”:
Civilians out of reach
Pierre Krähenbühl told the Security Council that he had made “discrete achievements” during a recent visit to Syria towards widening the scope of humanitarian access to people in areas adjacent from Yarmouk.
Several thousand civilians remain out of the agency’s reach in the camp, Krähenbühl stated during a press briefing.
He said that an estimated 18,000 civilians, including 3,500 children, were in the camp before ISIS entered at the beginning of the month. Since then, several thousand fled to neighboring areas but thousands of civilians remained.
Krähenbühl’s briefing came one day after the most deadly migrant disaster in the Mediterranean on record. He warned that in the absence of a political solution in Syria, “we’ll see a continuous outflow of men, women and children taking these dangerous and difficult decisions to reach Europe.”
“The idea that you survive the conflict in Yarmouk but then lose your life at sea is almost beyond what can be expressed in human terms,” Krähenbühl added.