Islamic State, Nusra snipers shooting ‘everything that moves’ in Yarmouk camp as residents trapped inside without water

For the last six days, thousands of residents of Yarmouk camp have largely stayed inside. Beyond their front doors, a turf war is underway in the south Damascus suburb, with both Islamic State and Jabhat a-Nusra snipers shooting “everything that moves,”Abu Muhammad, an activist living in a Nusra-controlled part of Yarmouk tells Waleed Khaled a-Noufal.

In April 2015, Islamic State fighters stormed and took control of most of Yarmouk camp. While they were subsequently pushed back and many withdrew to their base in neighboring al-Hajjar al-Aswad, IS fighters still control much of the two-square-kilometer camp, while Nusra and other factions hold some neighborhoods.

Last Thursday, IS attacked and took control of several Jabhat a-Nusra positions in Yarmouk, including 15th street and a checkpoint, sparking days of battles and sniper attacks, pro-opposition news site Enab Baladi reported on Saturday.

“A conflict over the 15th street neighborhood sparked the latest clashes,” Hassan, a journalist in an IS-held neighborhood of Yarmouk tells Syria Direct’s Fatima al-Jundi. “The general conflict between the two sides is takfiri: IS accuses Nusra of kufr (nonbelief), and vice versa.”

The price of determining who is the bigger nonbeliever is being paid by Yarmouk’s 18,000 residents, largely cut off from the world by regime forces since 2013. The Syrian government turned off the water supply nearly a year and a half ago, says Abu Muhammad, calling on the Assad government “not to use water as a weapon against innocent civilians.”

“The scale of the massive force that Nusra and IS have used against each other since Thursday proves that they don’t have any shortage of weapons or ammunition, and that they aren’t impacted by the siege.”

Hassan, a journalist living in an IS-controlled area of Yarmouk camp who requested anonymity for security reasons:

Q: What is behind the latest clashes between IS and Jabhat a-Nusra?

The general conflict between the two sides is takfiri: IS accuses Nusra of kufr (nonbelief), and vice versa.

A conflict over the 15th street neighborhood sparked the latest clashes. Nusra has also allowed FSA factions [from neighboring south Damascus neighborhoods] in to support them in eliminating the Islamic State.

There are also personal differences like verbal conflicts between Nusra and IS members.

Q: What is the situation like for civilians inside the camp?

The fighting is happening in densely populated areas. Nusra’s headquarters in particular are in heavily populated areas.

Residents are suffering from the difficulty of getting water due to the constant IS sniper attacks in these areas. There are water centers set up by different organizations at the entrances of each neighborhood or street, but it is difficult for people to get to them.

This forces some to go to the IS-held areas to get water because there are fewer sniper attacks there.

Q: Do you have statistics on the number of killed or wounded civilians?

Three children and some elderly people have been wounded by snipers. Both IS and Nusra are carrying out these shootings.

Q: Is there displacement within or out of Yarmouk camp?

It’s difficult to flee because of the siege, since those who are able to get out might not be able to return. What displacement there is flows outward in the direction of neighboring Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahm. However, most people prefer not to leave their houses because IS might burn them, or open up holes in the walls to facilitate their movements from house to house.

Q: Is either Nusra or IS advancing inside the camp?

No side has advanced until now. Nusra and the FSA have driven back a huge attack by IS.


Abu Muhammad, an activist living in a Nusra-controlled area of Yarmouk camp who requested anonymity for security reasons:

Q: What are living conditions like for people in Yarmouk right now?

Yarmouk’s dire state has become worse amidst the battles between Nusra and IS. Both sides have sent out their snipers and everything that moves is being shot at in the contested neighborhoods.

[Ed.: Abu Muhammad asked that Syria Direct publish his statement on the current water crisis in Yarmouk, which is included below.]

Yarmouk camp is in a humanitarian crisis as clashes continue and intensify between the Islamic State and Jabhat a-Nusra. Fighting and sniper shootings have cut off the blockaded camp, and dozens of families in different parts of the camp are unable to leave the hot zones for safer areas.

The Syrian regime cut off the water from Yarmouk more than 500 days ago, before the Islamic State and Jabhat a-Nusra took control. Since last Thursday, only two water trucks have come to provide water to three or four parts of the camp. The presence of the wells in hot zones and water trucks’ inability to move through all areas has paralyzed the process of water extraction and distribution.

We, the blockaded civilians of Yarmouk camp, are calling on IS and Nusra to stop the fighting for six hours to allow the civilians trapped in areas with clashes to evacuate to safer areas, and to allow the blockaded residents to replenish their supply.

We demand that the Syrian regime and the Palestinian factions supporting to return the flow of water to Yarmouk and not use water as a weapon against innocent civilians. This policy doesn’t impact anybody but the residents. The scale of the massive force that Nusra and IS have used against each other since Thursday proves that they don’t have any shortage of weapons or ammunition, and that they aren’t impacted by the siege.

We call on the United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency (UNRWA), the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian factions to bear their responsibility to stop the ongoing and renewed suffering, and not to bury their heads in the sand. We have not heard a single word from them about the current tragedy in the camp.

We call on Syrian and Palestinian media and journalists to be our voice in a time that thirst has dried up our throats and those of our children.

Q: In your opinion, why is IS making such an effort to fight and take control of Yarmouk?

IS aims to expand its influence in southern Damascus.

Waleed Khaled a-Noufal

Waleed a-Noufal was born in Ankhel in northern Daraa province. He attended high school in Ankhel but could not continue his study because of security reasons. Waleed worked as an activist in his local city council and the Umayya Media Center. In 2013, he moved to Jordan and finished his high school degree. Waleed wants to bring about a solution to the current crisis through his reporting. Follow Waleed on Twitter: @walid_ALnofal.

Mateo Nelson

Mateo Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. Mateo holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.

Kristen Demilio

Kristen Gillespie Demilio has more than 10 years of experience reporting from the Middle East while based in Amman. She regularly contributed to news outlets including CBS News Radio, NPR, The Jerusalem Report and PBS and is a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism as well as the Institut Français des Etudes Arabes in Damascus.

Fatima al-Jundi

Fatima was born in Qudsaya, Damascus. She holds a law degree from Damascus university. She moved to Jordan in 2012. She is hoping to learn journalism in order to change people’s perceptions about the conflict in Syria.