The brutal civil war in Syria caused United Nations humanitarian relief workers to flee fighting on Tuesday in the decimated Palestinian community known as Yarmouk, a district of Damascus considered an “unofficial” refugee camp by the UN, that since 1957 has been home to up to 180,000 Palestinians.
The civilian population there now is down to about 18,000 since the Syria fighting began, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency. About 1,800 Palestinians in Yarmouk have been killed in the civil war, while thousands more fled for their lives.
“UNRWA distributed hygiene kits to 247 civilian families on 5 August, following eight days with no UNRWA distribution in Yarmouk,” said UNWRA spokesperson Chris Gunness on UNWRA’s website. “Today’s distribution was halted when armed clashes erupted in the immediate vicinity of the distribution area, forcing the UNRWA team to evacuate in the early afternoon.”
Tuesday was the first day in more than a week that relief workers were able to enter Yarmouk at all.
World Media And Protesters Ignore Palestinians In Syria
The desperate plight of the Palestinians in Yarmouk, which until recently included thousands of families who resided there for generations and neither knew nor desired any other home, has received virtually no media attention around the world. A Google News search for “Yarmouk” turned up just nine media reports dating back to July 13, mostly from Syrian or Kuwait media sources.
In fact, when images of fighting and bloodshed in Yarmouk and Syria have reached the outside world, it has often been because they were misrepresented as occurring in Gaza and used as propaganda.
And while the Israel-Gaza war has sent thousands into the streets, especially in Europe, protesting in support of Palestinians in Gaza, reports of similar demonstrations in support of Palestinians in Yarmouk — where the population has been reduced by about 90 percent since the start of the Syria Civil War — have been exceedingly difficult to find.
“The enthusiasm with which some people demonstrate about Israel while having no interest in doing the same for Syria makes it hard to believe that they are motivated by an objective concern for human rights,” wrote the influential British left-wing blog Left Foot Forward. “The lack of action over the fate of Palestinians in Syria suggests that the death and suffering of Palestinians per se is not enough to get people out on the streets.”
Syria Forces Using Starvation Of Civilians As Weapon
Yarmouk is better described as a city-within-a-city than a refugee “camp.” The 2.1 square-mile Damascus district has schools, hospitals, and businesses, and many of its Palestinian residents are urban professionals, such as doctors and engineers.
But since the start of the Syria Civil War, Yarmouk has become a flash point for fighting and has been the target of aerial bombing by the Syrian government. The district has been under siege since July of last year, and according to an Amnesty International report in March of 2014, more than 170 people had died of starvation as the various battling factions in Syria tighten the noose around Yarmouk. The district’s dramatically reduced population is now comprised mostly of the elderly and sick.
“Syrian forces are committing war crimes by using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war,” said Amnesty’s Philip Luther. “The harrowing accounts of families having to resort to eating cats and dogs, and civilians attacked by snipers as they forage for food, have become all too familiar details of the horror story that has materialized in Yarmouk.”
Forces Besieging Palestinians In Yarmouk Include Fellow Palestinian Groups
The ethnic Palestinians living there have been victimized by the Syrian government, rebel groups including the Free Syria Army and the al-Qaeda connected Nusra Front — and by other Palestinians, in the form of, among other Palestinian paramilitary groups, the Popular Front For The Liberation Of Palestine — General Command.
The PFLP-GC is one of the Middle East’s oldest terrorist organizations, formed in 1968 as breakaway faction of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Headquartered in Damascus and receiving sponsorship from the Syrian government, the PFLP-GC carried out a number of high-profile terror attacks on civilians, including schoolchildren, inside Israel in the 1970s.
The PFLP-GC was able to move into Yarmouk after Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who had headquartered Hamas in Yarmouk, fled after he refused to back the Syrian government in the civil war. PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril, a staunch supporter of Syria President Bashar al-Assad, himself fled Yarmouk in December 2012 after many of his followers defected to the opposition.