By Mahmoud Sarhan, translated by Jimmy Phoenix
The memory of Palestinians of the Yarmouk refugee camp – south of Damascus – carries two harsh memories of two catastrophes: the first was the catastrophe of being kicked out of their land in 1948, while the second dates to 16-12-2012, which marks the Syrian opposition barging in the camp and the MIG strike which was executed by the Syrian Air Force over Falluja school and Abdul Kadir Alhusaini Mosque in the middle of the camp. And both were being used as refugee centers for those who fled from other locations, and these MIG strikes killed 170 refugees and caused many casualties as well. Afterwards, many rumors went around talking about a 24-hour warning given to the camp citizens before the regime forces would break in. As a result, thousands of citizens who were horrified by the massacre that just took place packed their bags and headed out of the camp in a scene more like the new Palestinian diaspora which was described as being worse than the first one. And many activists consider the MIG strike of the 17th December 2012 as the actual date of the catastrophe. According to Mohammed Almaqdesi – the official speaker of the Palestinian camps news association – that after the MIG strike, many Facebook pages affiliated to “Jibril” (PFLP – General Command) spread a rumor that the Syrian army commanded the people of Yarmouk camp to evacuate the camp, which is what actually was done, fearing the occurrence of another massacre just like the Mosque and School massacre.
At that time, Yarmouk camp sheltered thousands of Syrian families who evacuated to it from neighboring provinces, even some came from the cities of Aleppo and Homs. Which caused schools, mosques and houses to overflow with Syrian emigrants, which seemed for a while to be a safer place from the burning hell across the country. Yet, that didn’t suit the Syrian regime, who used genocide and group punishment against civilians after exiling them from their houses and forcing them to leave, seeking refuge from the inferno scorched by the regime’s military as soon as they suspected the presence of the FSA in it. However, Yarmouk camp succeeded for 9 months to stay unbiased despite the repeating attempts to drag it to the war, which was obvious through shelling it with mortars repeatedly and accusing the opposition for bombarding the camp. One of those barrages caused the “Alja’oona” massacre in 2-8-2012, which resulted a death toll of more than 20 martyrs and tens of casualties. Though, the main attempt to drag the camp into the conflict was from the “Jibril group” (or the PFLP – General Command) and its withdrawal from the agreement of the PLO factions, forming armed popular committees supported by the regime, which eventually caused those committees to overpass their duties within the camp and engage in armed clashes with the FSA in the Alhajar AlAswad and Tadamun areas. And not just that, but some groups even overpassed Jibril to receive orders directly from the Syrian Republican Guard (aka Presidential Guard), who eventually made the regime succeed in taking control of the green zone and eliminating the sanctuary the camp represented. This eventually forced the FSA to enter the camp in order to get oust the regime forces.
According to Almaqdesi: the FSA intended upon liberating only Alhajar Alaswad and the neighborhoods interlocking with Yelda Area. But Baian Miz’il broke into the entire camp along with his forces, ignoring the plan. Here, a new name rises up “Baian Miz’il”, one of the leaders of the south region FSA, who were found to be a regime agent, and has been the cause of letting the regime regain control of some of the that area’s neighborhoods. Thus, the regime bears the responsibility of dragging the camp into that bloody conflict so that he could make a few victories. Considering the military side, the regime tightened its grasp totally on all the neighborhoods of the southern region, using only one check point consisting of a few hundred soldiers and mercenaries. Which somehow reduces the burden of spreading soldiers around the camp and costing the regime many forces that would be better deployed to other sensitive regions as it sees fitting. Add to that, the regime also cut the supply lines to the camp and the safe haven that the camp represented as well as the popular revolution’s surrogate, which is represented by thousands of Syrian refugees who fled to the camp. All that is considered to be a part of the regime’s means of punishing revolting areas and its residents wherever they are.
While from the political point of view, the regime used the “kicking the Palestinians out of the camp” strategy to support the alleged propaganda of the “universal conspiracy” against the regime, and using it to press on all Palestinian, Arab, and international bodies as well to come to its aid. The regime succeeded in involving Yarmouk Camp through “Jibril’s faction” and one of his goons, therefore, succeeded – using few a soldiers only, to impose a suffocating siege on all the areas out of his control in the southern area of Damascus for a period of one year, which allows him to stall in executing any initiative presented by the PLO or anyone else. And according to “Mamdouh” – a politician activist, the regime sees no interest in making truces, and any initiative or ceasefire is nothing but a trick which he uses in the context of a psychological warfare which he imposes upon the besieged to ruin their spirit, waiting for things to change and for the facts on the ground to get to his side. And until now, all the initiatives presented by the PLO have failed, while those presented by NGO’s in Yarmouk seem to be suspended between PLO officials’ statements, and Jibril’s people’s belief that it is bound to fail, and none of the distress calls made to help the besieged from an incoming humanitarian crisis caused by letting them stay for 6 months without food or medicine are listened to. Also, the camp’s residents’ attempts to neutralize the camp’s status and force Jibril and the regime to execute the recent initiative, which has brought about the death of four citizens in the “coffins” march, during their march to the regime forces’ check point outside the camp, returning to face the monopoly of the dealers inside. Even the kids went in the “empty vessels” march demanding the siege to be lifted. In the camp’s catastrophe anniversary, the citizens celebrated it by demanding the siege to be broken and neutralized from the entire situation and stop killing them by bombs, bullets and hunger. Yet, we haven’t received any reaction from the besiegers, and after a whole year, all the popular and formal attempts represented by the PLO failed and did not bring about any change regarding the camp’s situation, and the regime succeeded in eliminating the refugees’ green zone and cutting the supply lines by using just a paper to negotiate with. And that comfortable situation enforced the regime to bargain with all sides, considering that the Syrian regime is the puppet master from now on, and it becomes the only one to benefit from Yarmouk’s catastrophe. And according to what Mamdouh said, I guess there one significant difference between who besieges the Gazans and who does the same in Yarmouk, where Palestinians are being besieged by either the occupation or the “defiance” regime.