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More information about ISIS presence in Yarmouk refugee area, South Damascus

Video and transcript inside: Three days ago I heard a casual report, lasting maybe two lines, on SBS or ABC news, that ISIS militants had taken over a suburb of Damascus six kilometers from the Presidential Palace. Although this sounded really awful, the lack of detail was suspicious. One could imagine the United States using such a half-baked report as an excuse to attack the area from the air and kill the Syrian president, so I tried to find out more by going outside Australian and US/NATO news sources. The Syrian government has since driven ISIS out of the area. [1] Below this introduction is a video interview with Alaa Ibrahim, and my transcript of it. From Voltaire.net [1] I learned were that Yamouk refugee 'camp' is not a camp with tents but a fully fledged built-up suburb of Damascus, mostly inhabited by Palestinian refugees, to whom Syria grants full rights to housing, free education and health, like ordinary citizens. Palestine, as readers would be aware, no longer exists on the map, but it used to be next door to Syria, on its southern border, in the area now occupied by Israel. Syria is the only Arab state that provides legal equality to Palestinians and it administers their areas in conjunction with Palestinian leaders. Something like seven million of Syria's population before the current war were refugees from, as well as Palestine, the nearby war-torn states, notably Iraq. (It is amazing that the Australian refugee advocate movement and our anti-war movement - such as it is - does not appear to have realised this.)

On 2 April 2015, political analyst Alaa Ibrahim was interviewed by RT news about how Islamic State fighters seized Yarmouk Refugee area in South Damascus, 6.4km from the city center.

Alaa Ibrahim: "We now have an effective ISIS presence in that area. The camp has been under rebel control since 2012 and it has been under the control of two rebel factions, ... ? and Moktus. Two of these groups have very radical Islamic ideology, but nonetheless, the presence of ISIL has a political significance because it is the first time we have seen a stronghold of ISIL (or ISIS) so close to the Syrian capital.

Yarmouk has been the closest point the rebels have ever got to the Syrian capital, Damascus. If you have a look at the geography of the place, areas around the Yarmouk camp which were all under the control of rebels, have recently in the past few months had signed settlements - which the Syrian government calls a 'national reconciliation agreement' - between the Syrian Government and the local rebel factions in these areas and, as a result the Syrian government has fortified its presence south of Damascus and further secured the perimeter of the capital.

The only real chance to achieve a breach in this perimeter of Damascus is through the Yarmouk area. The Syrian government has been avoiding attacking the Yarmouk camp because it knows many - estimates say between 15 and 20,000 - Palestinian refugees live in that area, so it would be a political embarassment for the Syrian government if it carries attacks there and surely civilians would die as a result of these attacks so I think they [Syrian Government] decided to avoid the camp, which created a weak point in their parameter around the capital, Damascus.

Also, there's another development that comes into play: the fact that the Nusra Front, which is very strong in the camp, wanted to fortify its position against the other rebel factions, so it brought in ISIL in a rear alliance between the two organisations, hoping to prevent any local rebel factions from signing any agreement or agreeing with the Syrian government to surrender or give the camp back to the control of the Syrian government."

Interviewer: " The logistics of what has happened aside, what is it going to mean for these many thousands - as you've just been saying - of the refugees inside this camp? What's it going to mean for their safety and security? "

Alaa Ibrahim: "Well, they don't have a very good situation to begin with. The camp is completely dependent on humanitarian aid delivered to the camp on a monthly basis by the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees ... and by the Syrian government. The situation in the camp was very bad to begin with. There is an infestation of diseases ..."

Interviewer interrupting: "Are they safe from ISIS?"

Alaa Ibrahim: "No, they're not safe from ISIS/ISIL. They were not safe in the first place, when they lived under battling rebel factions, including al Queida and Syrian Muslim Front."

[1] ISIS driven out of the area per a report from Voltaire Network, 3 April 2015, republished at http://candobetter.net/node/4354.

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