UNRWA delivered emergency aid supplies to Yarmouk residents displaced in the nearby town of Beit Sahem on Sunday as it attempts to deal with the aftermath of the Islamic State’s invasion of the camp, reported the UN agency.
The distributions in Beit Sahem and the adjacent towns of Yelda and Babila come in response to the UN’s inability to enter Yarmouk since IS won control of the camp at the beginning of the month.
Recent reports say that IS has withdrawn from the camp, but YouTube videos and activists inside indicate otherwise.
Meanwhile, government forces continue to man checkpoints around Yarmouk and intentionally deny civilians access to basic necessities such as food, water and medicine as they have for over two years.
The regime siege contributed to IS’s takeover of Yarmouk—reportedly with the help of rival Islamist group Jabhat a-Nusra—from “fatigued” Palestinian militias defending the camp, says citizen-journalist Matar Ismail, who moves in and out of Yarmouk.
At the end of the day, “the fundamental issue is the regime siege on the camp,” he tells Syria Directs Moatassim Jamal.
Q: Did the regime siege on the camp help IS and Nusra control the camp? If so, how?
Yes, the camp was originally fatigued by the regime siege and so it was hard to handle a violent attack like the one IS and Nusra struck against it.
Yarmouk residents clean the camp’s streets last week. Photo courtesy of Old Palestinian Lens.
Q: What are Yarmouk residents worried about most now? The regime siege or IS?
The fundamental issue is the regime siege on the camp. There is also fear of IS controlling the camp and making a tragic humanitarian situation worse.
Q: Are people of Yarmouk still against the regime, especially after two years of siege and bombings against them?
Most of the camp’s residents want it to remain neutral, but their positions on the regime have not changed, especially since it continues to launch barrel bombs on the camp and arrest activists during the aid distributions.
Q: How has the situation in the camp changed since IS took over, especially with regard to food supplies?
Since IS took control over Yarmouk camp, UNRWA has stopped its operations distributing food aid that were taking place on Palestine Street, in a regime-controlled part of the camp. The reduction of food sources in Yarmouk has led people to eat plants growing on the ground.
Instead, UNRWA began distributing aid to families displaced from Yarmouk in the towns surrounding the camp. Families have been forced to leave the camp to purchase food supplies from the surrounding areas.
Q: Is it true that IS distributed bread or food to Yarmouk’s residents after it won control of the camp?
That’s not true, the opposite in fact. They stole food supplies from the houses of activists and fighters of [the Palestinian militia] al-Aknaf.
Q: How do the people that are still inside the camp get food now, especially with IS’s presence in the camp on one hand and the regime siege on the other?
Most people leave the camp to the surrounding towns like Yelda, Babila and Beit Sahem to purchase food supplies, in addition to receiving some aid that is distributed by relief organizations whenever they are allowed in the camp.
Q: Does IS and Nusra help the people of the camp get food? If so, how?
It is not possible for them to help because they themselves do not own enough food supplies to help meet people’s needs.