Lebanon News

Lebanon’s Palestinian factions weigh action in Yarmouk

Palestinian women from Yarmouk receive food aid at the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh, Thursday, March 26, 2015. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

SHATILA, Lebanon: Major Palestinian factions in Lebanon told The Daily Star Wednesday they would not be supporting their affiliates in the besieged Yarmouk militarily, but did not rule it out as a possibility. Meanwhile, Palestinian refugees from Syria bewailed the fate of relatives still residing in the embattled refugee camp, which lies just 7 kilometers from the center Damascus.

Fathi Abou al-Ardat, representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon, said a delegation headed by Ahmad Majdalani, a Palestinian politician and former minister, was meeting with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad to discuss the options available to defend Yarmouk.

“We hope we can provide as much protection as we can for our people,” Ardat told The Daily Star. “Military support is possible and is being studied by a special PLO committee.”

But the group is awaiting the result of the delegation’s visit to Syria before finalizing any plans, he added. Dealing with the multiple factions that took over the camp was an added challenge hindering the coordination of resistance operations.

“The PLO is looking into different ways to protect the people of Yarmouk, and we are not excluding the military option,” the Palestinian representative said. “We are willing to do whatever we can.”

Hasan Sheshneya, the press attaché for the Palestinian Embassy in Lebanon, was more categorical on the subject of military support. “The military option is not on the table,” he said. “We are against the idea of giving weapons or sending fighters outside of Lebanon. We are not ready to send more people to die.”

The Hamas Movement has called for an immediate end to clashes in the camp but is not considering supporting Palestinian factions such as Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, which is loyal to the group, with arms or fighters, Hamas representative in Lebanon Ali Barakeh said.

“We can’t send military support from Palestine to Syria without the consent of all the factions in Syria,” he explained. “Our aim is to kick ISIS out of the camp, and meetings are ongoing with all Palestinian factions in Syria to that end.”

In Ain al-Hilweh, the head the southern refugee camp’s elite special forces unit Maj. Gen. Mounir al-Moqdah said no word had come from PLO headquarters in Palestine to mobilize efforts to save Yarmouk, citing the outcome of a joint security meeting this week.

“We haven’t been assigned or told to act by Abu Mazen [President Mahmoud Abbas], but if we were asked to we are ready to protect our kin in Yarmouk,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila, primary school children marched around the camp to protest the seizure of Yarmouk. Waving Palestinian flags and holding placards that read “Death, hunger and fear: these are the children of Yarmouk,” and “The children of Yarmouk are in danger,” the young students chanted as teachers wheedled them around Shatila’s coiling alleyways.

The children stopped by a memorial for victims of the 1982 camp massacre during the Civil War to light candles. Signs reading “Yarmouk” and “Palestine” were placed at the foot of its doors.

Fatme Mustafa fled Yarmouk two years ago with her husband and child and settled in Shatila. Her father-in-law stayed behind to guard the family property from robberies and squatters. Many Palestinian refugees coming from Syria to Lebanon have relatives among the 18,000 who chose to live under the government siege of Yarmouk to protect their belongings.

Mustafa’s father-in-law also used the family home to shelter refugees displaced from the camp and felt compelled to stay, she said. The family maintains constant communication with him.

“He can’t do anything inside the camp except accept the reality of what’s going on,” she said.

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA issued an urgent plea for humanitarian access to the area, after ISIS first attacked the camp. The group was initially repelled by Palestinian forces inside Yarmouk but have since captured 90 percent of the area, AFP reported.

Since ISIS seized part of the camp, Musatafa’s father-in-law has ensconced himself indoors. “He lives in fear,” she said, as news of Palestinian captives being beheaded by ISIS emerged shortly after the militant groups overran the area.

Mariam’s 38-year-old son also stayed behind when the family fled to Lebanon nearly two years ago. She tries to speak to her son every day. “The days we don’t speak, I can’t sleep,” she said.

Their conversations rarely delve into the details of daily life, she said. “Don’t ask too much about me, he says to me,” Mariam recounted. “We just talk to make sure he’s still alive.” – With additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 09, 2015, on page 4.

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