[Midden-Oosten] Unending Siege of Yarmouk

Jeff meisner op xs4all.nl
Ma Apr 13 19:10:43 CEST 2015

Quick links:

1) Petition: End the Siege of Yarmouk Camp

2) The Starving of Yarmouk, Then the Capture. By Qusai Zakarya

3)  The Palestinians of Yarmouk and the shameful silence when Israel is
not to blame. By Mehdi Hasan.


1) Petition: End the Siege of Yarmouk Camp

Petition by Stanley Heller

To be delivered to Hassan Rouhani, President, Islamic Republic of Iran and
Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of

A siege of tens of thousands of civilians is cruel and improper. It
violates international law and religious teachings. Attacks on civilians
by any side in the conflict must be condemned. We ask that Iranian
government representatives contact the Assad government and insist that it
end its siege of Yarmouk and all predominantly civilian areas.

Petition Background

We are people who have spoken out and protested against war or sanctions
on Iran. We are people who have opposed the Obama Administration’s plan to
bomb Syria. We know the sorry results of U.S. and European interventions
in the Middle East.

We also have spoken out against mistreatment of Palestinians by Israeli
forces and the denial of basic Palestinian human and national rights for
many decades.

We write to you about the situation of Palestinians in Yarmouk. The camp
and its tens of thousands of residents have been under total siege for
around six months. The Washington Post reported in mid-January that 48
Palestinians have died from hunger and related causes. We have seen
pictures from Yarmouk of people reduced to near skeletons from

We are not offering a solution to Syria’s problems; however we are united
in saying that a siege of tens of thousands of civilians is cruel and
improper. It violates international law and religious teachings. Attacks
on civilians by any side in the conflict must be condemned.

We ask that your representatives contact the Assad government and insist
that it end its siege of Yarmouk and all predominantly civilian areas.



2) The Starving of Yarmouk, Then the Capture

The Islamic State’s attack on the besieged Palestinian refugee camp
outside Damascus is highly suspicious. It could only have happened with
Assad’s complicity.

By Qusai Zakarya
April 9, 2015

After Bashar al-Assad’s regime spent nearly two years massacring
Palestinians in Yarmouk camp, after regime bombardments destroyed nearly
70 percent of the camp, after thousands were arrested and tortured to
death, and after civilians were forced to resort to scavenging through
trash and weeds to ward off starvation — after all this, the world is
finally paying attention to the situation in this long-suffering southern
Damascus neighborhood. And all they want to talk about is the Islamic

I think this is a disgrace. But since this is what the world wants to
hear, I will tell them. You cannot understand the Islamic State’s assault
on the camp or what it means unless you also consider how Bashar al-Assad,
as a gift to the Palestinian people, turned a thriving neighborhood of
hundreds of thousands of people into a desperate population of 18,000
waiting to die.

We cannot stop what happened in Yarmouk from repeating itself elsewhere
unless we save the 600,000 besieged civilians whom Assad is starving to

Let me go back to the beginning, when the siege of Yarmouk began in late
2012. I was there at the time because, as a Syrian-Palestinian, I had many
family members living in the camp. My brothers had pleaded with me for
hours to join them on a trip to the camp, because they wanted me to move
into my aunt’s house there. Yarmouk at the time seemed much safer than my
nearby hometown of Moadamiya, a Damascus suburb southwest of the capital,
where I was an opposition activist.

We arrived at the camp on the evening of Dec. 15, 2012, at a time when the
Free Syrian Army and its Palestinian supporters were making rapid gains.
As usual, Assad was responding by shelling innocent civilians at random.
The shelling kept us up for much of the night, but eventually I drifted
off to sleep. I woke up to the sound of a huge explosion close by.

It was the first attack on Yarmouk camp by a fighter jet. The regime’s
target: Abdul-Qader Mosque, a place of worship that was packed with
displaced people. Watching from my window, I saw scenes of panic and
chaos, shrapnel and body parts lying everywhere. Tanks then moved in to
surround the camp. When an announcement came ordering us to leave in three
hours or not at all, we left. On our way out, we passed dozens of tanks
and thousands of troops ready to march. The siege on Yarmouk had begun.

The regime’s starve-and-surrender siege tactics later came to my hometown
of Moadamiya, so I have some idea what residents of Yarmouk are going

Hunger is not like the other weapons Assad has used to kill us. When a
helicopter circles overhead, you can run to the basement and take shelter
from the barrel bombs. When the artillery shells start falling, you can
flee behind a building to take cover. When the regime sends tanks and
troops, you can run to the front lines and attempt to push them back. Even
when an arrest raid is underway, you have some hope to flee, hide, or
defend yourself. But you can’t run from hunger: When your entire town is
under siege, there is nothing you can do. All you can do is watch as your
family members waste away before your eyes.

Being under siege breeds a special type of desperation. During the worst
part of the siege in Moadamiya, people who had fought for democracy for
three years and had seen their friends, relatives, or children killed by
the regime were ready to surrender out of hunger. People that desperate
are willing to do anything for food or resources. They would even join the
Islamic State.

That is what happened in al-Hajar al-Aswad, the Damascus neighborhood
south of Yarmouk that the Islamic State used as a launchpad for the attack
on the camp. In those neighborhoods, the Islamic State offered money,
food, advanced weapons, and other resources to residents who despaired of
getting help from elsewhere. Many of these residents were dead-set on
avenging their lost loved ones after Assad forced their towns to surrender
in early 2014 following starvation sieges.

The Islamic State tried to recruit in Yarmouk, but local residents did not
take the bait. That is why the Islamic State used areas where it was
already established to conquer Yarmouk by force. Assad’s siege of
civilians helped the Islamic State even in Yarmouk because — after two and
a half years of starvation and bombardment — the local battalions in the
camp were too weak to push the group out.

But that is not the whole story. Local residents of Yarmouk were surprised
to see a raid of hundreds of Islamic State fighters from southern Damascus
successfully enter their area. When al-Hajar al-Aswad and Yalda were
controlled by the Free Syrian Army, there were many attempts to break the
siege on the camp with similar raids. Each one was a disaster; Assad’s
forces have the area tightly monitored and controlled. Simply put, there
is no way the attack by the Islamic State could have happened unless Assad
wanted it to.

Then there is another question: How did the Islamic State get such large
quantities of resources into besieged areas? The Free Syrian Army in
besieged Yarmouk had only handmade light weapons, while the Islamic State
in besieged al-Hajar al-Aswad had advanced missiles and high-tech rifles.
Believe me, infants would not be starving in my hometown if regime sieges
could be evaded through tunnels or bribes. Those resources got in because
the regime allowed them to enter.

What happened in Yarmouk and al-Hajar al-Aswad can happen in other
besieged areas in the capital. For Syrians under siege, surrendering to
Assad or joining the Islamic State are two sides of the same coin: They
are both the result of desperation from starvation. When you see Assad
bragging in the media that some besieged Syrians have surrendered, you can
bet there are others who just secretly joined the Islamic State. So long
as Assad’s starvation sieges continue to weaken the Syrian people, the
Islamic State will find an opening by persuasion or conquest.

Right now, the Islamic State is gunning for the Syrian capital of
Damascus. All of my friends in besieged suburbs near the capital have
noticed an uptick in Islamic State recruitment efforts recently. We know
that the Islamic State has a big resource advantage in these areas,
sometimes even including grain silos. If Bashar al-Assad’s starvation
weapon is not taken from him, it will be only a matter of time before more
towns fall. The only solution is to break the sieges.



3)  The Palestinians of Yarmouk and the shameful silence when Israel is
not to blame. Mehdi Hasan.

When Israel wages war on Palestinians, we speak out. But they are dying,
right now, at the hands of an Arab regime

Sunday 12 April 2015 16.01 BST

Palestinian refugees are being starved, bombed and gunned down like
animals. “If you want to feed your children, you need to take your funeral
shroud with you,” one told Israeli news website Ynet. “There are snipers
on every street, you are not safe anywhere.” This isn’t happening,
however, in southern Lebanon, or even Gaza. And these particular
Palestinians aren’t being killed or maimed by Israeli bombs and bullets.
This is Yarmouk, a refugee camp on the edge of Damascus, just a few miles
from the palace of Bashar al-Assad. Since 1 April, the camp has been
overrun by Islamic State militants, who have begun a reign of terror:
detentions, shootings, beheadings and the rest. Hundreds of refugees are
believed to have been killed in what Ban Ki-moon has called the “deepest
circle of hell”.

But this isn’t just about the depravity of Isis. The Palestinians of
Yarmouk have been bombarded and besieged by Assad’s security forces since
2012. Water and electricity were cut off long ago, and of the 160,000
Palestinian refugees who once lived in the camp only 18,000 now remain.
The Syrian regime has, according to Amnesty International, been
“committing war crimes by using starvation of civilians as a weapon”,
forcing residents to “resort to eating cats and dogs”. Even as the
throat-slitters took control, Assad’s pilots were continuing to drop
barrel bombs on the refugees. “The sky of Yarmouk has barrel bombs instead
of stars,” said Abdallah al-Khateeb, a political activist living inside
the camp.

It is difficult to disagree with the verdict of the Palestinian League for
Human Rights that the Palestinians of Syria are “the most untold story in
the Syrian conflict”. There are 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in
Syria, housing more than half a million people. Ninety per cent, estimates
the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), are in continuous need
of humanitarian aid. In Yarmouk, throughout 2014, residents were forced to
live on around 400 calories of food aid a day – fewer than a fifth of the
UN’s recommended daily amount of 2,100 calories for civilians in war zones
– because UNRWA aid workers had only limited access to the camp. Today,
they have zero access.“To know what it is like in Yarmouk,” one of the
camp’s residents is quoted as saying on the UNRWA website, “turn off your
electricity, water, heating, eat once a day, live in the dark.”

Their plight should matter to us all – regardless of whether their
persecutors happen to be Israelis, Syrians, Egyptians or, for that matter,
fellow Palestinians (Palestinian Authority security forces, after all,
have been shooting and beating unarmed Palestinian protesters for several
years now).

This is far from a cynical exercise in pro-Israeli whataboutery. There are
very good reasons that Israel attracts such widespread criticism and
condemnation in the west. Israel is our ally and claims to be a liberal
democracy, unlike both Assad and Isis. Israel is also armed, funded and
protected from UN censure by the US government; again, unlike both Assad
and Isis.

Those who try to use the tragedy of Yarmouk to excuse or downplay Israel’s
48-year occupation of Palestine should be ashamed of themselves. But what
of the rest of us? Can we afford to stay in our deep slumber, occasionally
awakening to lavishly condemn only Israel? Let’s be honest: how different,
how vocal and passionate, would our reaction be if the people besieging
Yarmouk were wearing the uniforms of the IDF?

Our selective outrage is morally unsustainable. Many of us who have raised
our voices in support of the Palestinian cause have inexcusably turned a
blind eye to the fact that tens of thousands of Palestinians have been
killed by fellow Arabs in recent decades: by the Jordanian military in the
Black September conflicts of the early 1970s; by Lebanese militias in the
civil war of the mid-1980s; by Kuwaiti vigilantes after the first Gulf
war, in the early 1990s. Egypt, the so-called “heart of the Arab world”,
has colluded with Israel in the latter’s eight-year blockade of Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians of Yarmouk are living in catastrophic
conditions, their lives “profoundly threatened”, in the words of the
United Nations. So what, if anything, can be done? The usual coalition of
neoconservative hawks and so-called liberal interventionists in the west
want to bomb first and ask questions later, while the rest of us resort to
a collective shrug: a mixture of indifference and despair. Few are willing
to make the tough and unpopular case for a negotiated solution to the
Syrian conflict or, at least, a truce and a ceasefire, a temporary
cessation of hostilities. Yet there is an urgent need for a “pause” in the
fighting in order to ensure “humanitarian access” to Yarmouk, says Chris
Gunness, senior director of UNRWA, who has described the camp as a

UNRWA, he tells me, is “calling on those who can influence the parties on
the ground to make that influence effective”, adding: “Everyone in the
Middle East can be influenced, everyone is sponsored.” Gunness points out
that almost 100 civilians, including 20 children, were evacuated from the
camp on 5 April so there is no reason why more of Yarmouk’s residents
can’t be escorted to safety.

We have also failed to put our money where our collective mouth is. The
UN’s $415m appeal for Palestinian refugees in Syria is only 20% funded, a
situation Gunness calls “disastrous”. Isn’t it a scandal that there’s
always spare cash for bombing campaigns yet never enough for emergency
aid? The Palestinians of Yarmouk, like the Palestinians of Gaza during the
summer of 2014, need our support, both political and financial.

Now is the time for those of us who claim to care about the Palestinian
people, and their struggle for dignity, justice and nationhood, to make
our voices heard. Some 3,500 of the 18,000 Palestinians in Yarmouk are
children. As Gunness says, his voice trembling with emotion: “We are
potentially witnessing a slaughter of the innocents. What is the world
going to do?”


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