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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Between ISIS and Assad: Syrian civilians are trapped in ‘death camp’ on the door of Damascus

Resident on outskirts of besieged Yarmouk says civilians face shelling or, worse, execution

As the Syrian regime launches a renewed siege on a militant-held enclave on the doorstep of Damascus, civilians have found themselves trapped between two types of barbarism: the indiscriminate fire of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, and the medieval ideology of ISIS.

A regime bombardment on the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk continued on Sunday, as well as in sections of the neighbouring ISIS-held districts of Hajar Al Aswad and Tadamun in southeast Damascus after a failure to negotiate the evacuation of militants from those areas.

Abdullah Al Khateeb, a human rights activist in the Yalda neighborhood of Damascus that lies less than two kilometres from the ISIS-held district, told The National that as the battle between the Syrian government and militants escalates, civilians have been cut off from any assistance.

"Due to the vicious attacks by the Syrian and Russian regime, 40 injuries have been reported and a Palestinian Red Crescent hospital has been hit in Hajar Al Awsad camp," Mr Al Khateeb said by phone.

"There are currently no ambulances or doctors or nurses, it’s impossible to get civilians out".

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Assad is pushing to strengthen his hold over the city and the fall of Hajar Al Awsad, ISIS’s last remaining stronghold in the Syrian capital after it entered Yarmouk camp in 2015, would be a significant strategic victory for the Syrian dictator.

But that bid means civilians could be caught in the deadly crossfire, as they were late Saturday, when at least two Palestinian civilians were killed in their Yarmouk home by regime shelling. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) issued a higher toll of three dead.

“The regime has threatened to strike if anyone leaves as they assume that ISIS fighters are escaping the area”, Mr Al Khateeb said.

A picture taken on April 22, 2018, shows a Syrian air force Sukhoi 22 flying over the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, south of the Syrian capital Damascus, during regime strikes targeting the Islamic State group in the camp.
Syrian troops are waging an intense bombing campaign against Yarmuk, a Palestinian refugee camp on the edge of Damascus, and nearby districts that are held by IS. / AFP PHOTO / Rami al SAYED
A Syrian air force Sukhoi 22 flying over the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, south of the Syrian capital Damascus, during regime strike. Rami al Sayed / AFP

UNRWA, the agency that cares for Palestinians, said 6,000 people had been displaced into Yalda by the fighting and called for a safe passage for the sick and wounded civilians remaining in the besieged areas.

"The injured and sick should be allowed to be evacuated," spokesperson Chris Gunness told The National. "Yarmouk has been transformed into a death camp, like one of the lower regions of hell."

That hell is one where, if civilians leave, they could be killed immediately by the regime. If they remain, they could face an even worse fate: death by execution.

“ISIS has been participating in various executions inside the camp and in Hajar Al Aswad,” confirms Mr Al Khateeb.

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