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Solution to Yarmouk crisis out of Palestinian hands: official
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A girl holds a snack at a school during the visit of Pierre Krähenbühl, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) (Background-L), at the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria, on April 12, 2015. (AP Photo)

A girl holds a snack at a school during the visit of Pierre Krähenbühl, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) (Background-L), at the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria, on April 12, 2015. (AP Photo)

London and Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—A solution to the crisis at the Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk, on the outskirts of Damascus, now lies in the hands of the Syrian regime and not Palestinian groups, the Palestinian envoy to Syria told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday.

Ahmed Majdalani, President Mahmoud Abbas’s representative in Damascus and a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) executive committee, said the PLO and other Palestinian groups were “no longer able to make a decision” on solving the crisis, adding that it was only the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad that was capable of saving the camp.

“To put it bluntly, what is happening now [at the camp] damages Damascus’s security, and so if it decides to enter the camp it will not take permission from the PLO,” he said.

The already dire humanitarian situation at the camp, which lies just 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the center of Damascus, has deteriorated markedly since April 1, when it was attacked by fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The camp has been continually besieged since the Syrian conflict began in 2011.

The camp, which contains an area of 0.81 square miles (2.11 square kilometers), is essentially a district of Damascus for Palestinian refugees, and in 2012 was estimated to hold more than 150,000 civilians.

ISIS has reportedly joined forces with rival terrorist group and Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front, in order to control the camp, which could form an entry-point into the capital Damascus.

Majdalani said ISIS fighters were now present in the camp itself, locked in fierce battles with Palestinian groups. Echoing reports on the extremist group joining forces with others he said: “All these extremist groups, including the Al-Nusra Front, are working in ISIS’s favor in Yarmouk.”

“They are all Dawa’esh,” he said, describing all the different extremist groups in Yarmouk while using an Arabic term used to refer to fighters from ISIS. “And now they are redeploying their forces and the clashes remain ongoing.”

He added however that neither the PLO nor Islamist group Hamas were taking part in the fighting. Fighters from the militant Al-Qaeda-linked Palestinian group the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem as well as fighters from the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army (FSA) were countering the ISIS assault, however.

On April 9, Majdalani told the BBC both the Mujahideen Shura Council and the FSA were conducting joint operations with Syrian government forces to expel ISIS and its allies from the camp.

Meanwhile, on Sunday Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner-general for United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)—the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees—called on all sides in the conflict to “respect the beleaguered civilians” inside the refugee camp, whom he said had “suffered untold indignities” throughout the now four-year Syrian conflict.

The UNRWA commissioner general is currently on a visit to Damascus to meet with Syrian officials and the refugees who have fled the recent fighting.

The organization said on Saturday it was “deeply concerned” regarding the humanitarian situation inside the camp, adding that civilians inside the camp were at “grave risk” from the fighting and lacked access to basic provisions such as food, water and healthcare. UNRWA estimates a total of 18,000 Palestinian refugees, including 3,500 children, both inside and outside the camp “continue to be affected by unimaginable levels of violence and deprivation.”

Syrian opposition training

Meanwhile, an estimated 500 fighters from Syrian opposition groups are due to begin training by the US military in Turkey on Wednesday, according to a high-ranking official from the FSA.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday, Osama Abu Zaid, the FSA’s legal adviser, said the group of 500 included different batches each containing up to 50 fighters from various groups and had been “handpicked” by the Pentagon to participate in the training program.

“They will undergo a one-month training schedule, where they will also become familiar with how to coordinate with [US-led anti-ISIS] coalition warplanes and how to provide the latter with updates from the ground [in Syria] as well as training in communication between the opposition fighters and the coalition’s operations room to coordinate joint attacks against ISIS,” he said.

“The mission of these Syrian opposition fighters on the ground in the country will be to provide support for the US airstrikes,” he added.

Nazeer Rida contributed additional reporting from Beirut.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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