March 12, 2014
Last month, regime and opposition figures in the south Damascus neighborhoods of Yarmouk and Babila reached ceasefire agreements whereby rebel fighters would surrender their heavy weapons and regime forces would lift the suffocating blockades that for months had deprived residents in Yarmouk and Babila of even their most basic necessities.
The Yarmouk truce lasted just 19 days before fighters from Jabhat a-Nusra, who had withdrawn from the camp under the terms of the ceasefire, declared that they would reenter the camp in response to pro-Assad fighters’ refusal to abide by the terms of the ceasefire, limiting aid entry and arresting civilians seeking to receive assistance.
Pro- and anti-Assad fighters stand side-by-side after reaching a ceasefire agreement in Babila last month. Photo courtesy of Al-Monitor.
The ceasefire in Babila, some three kilometers to Yarmouk’s east, has held since being established in mid-February, despite opposition reports that the government blockade remains largely in place. A shipment of bread reached Babila on Wednesday, says Yarmouk-based activist Mohammad a-Nasr, but prior to that delivery the crossing into Babila had been “completely closed” for eight days. A-Nasr tells Syria Direct’s Mohammad Ali that the situation in Babila remains relatively calm, even as neighboring Yarmouk descends back into “daily bombardment” and intermittent street fighting.
Q: When was the last time humanitarian aid entered Babila? Who provided the aid, and who distributed it?
I’ve just been told that the crossing into Babila has been opened to allow a car to deliver bread into Babila and [the neighboring towns] of Yalda and Beit Sahim. The bread was purchased by donors in southern Damascus, and it is distributed by local councils. The current delivery includes about 1,000 bags of bread for each of the three towns; there are some 1,000 families in Babila, 3,500 in Yalda and 3,000 in Beit Sahim.
Q: Aside from this delivery, has the siege of Babila been lifted? Can aid enter, and can people come and go?
The road has been completely closed for eight days because the regime wants to send in forces to reopen the police station, which many armed forces oppose. There’s absolutely no entry or exit from the area. The crossings are under joint regime-rebel control, and the regime forces won’t allow anyone in or out.
There’s no bombardment or fighting in Babila, because of the initial truce agreement and because there are still some issues that regime and opposition forces are negotiating over.
However, pro-Assad forces targeted the town of Beit Sahim [on Babila’s eastern flank] with mortar fire yesterday evening, and with heavy machine guns from the direction of the Sayyida Zeinab shrine [to the southeast].
Q: What about in Yarmouk—how have dynamics in the camp changed since Jabhat a-Nusra returned earlier this month?
Yarmouk is under daily bombardment, and violence breaks out occasionally. Nobody is talking about a truce anymore. Jabhat a-Nusra and other armed groups gave the regime an ultimatum of 24 hours to fulfill the terms of the ceasefires. The regime and the [pro-Assad] Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) ignored the deadline, which led to Jabhat a-Nusra and other groups spreading back out through the camp along the original battle lines; they had previously withdrawn per the terms of the truce.
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