IS in Yarmouk camp after entering through Nusra checkpoints

April 2, 2015

By Brent Eng and Moatassim Jamal

AMMAN: Jabhat a-Nusra reportedly tried to prevent armed reinforcements on Wednesday from entering Yarmouk camp to fight back the Islamic State, including fighters with Jaish al-Islam and Liwa Sham al-Rasul.

“Jabhat a-Nusra prevented reinforcements from armed fighters from entering the camp,” said Abu Marem al-Jolani, a citizen journalist in southern Damascus.   

The claim of Nusra turning back support was repeated by pro-opposition Step News Agency on Wednesday, which reported that Jaish al-Islam and Liwa Sham al-Rasul fighters were able to enter the camp despite Nusra’s efforts to prevent them.

Liwa Sham al-Rasul, a FSA-affiliated brigade in southern Damascus, fought with Nusra earlier this month in the southern Damascus towns of Beit Sahem and Babila, and has antagonistic relations with the group.

IS has had a presence in the district of al-Hajjar al-Aswad, located just south of Yarmouk camp, for nearly a year.

The Islamic State was able to penetrate Yarmouk camp Wednesday after possible collaboration with Jabhat a-Nusra, which controls checkpoints on the eastern fringes of the camps, pro-regime media sources and activists reported.

Rebels led by Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis on Wednesday pushed back the Islamic State, which still has a presence of Yarmouk camp after entering through Jabhat a-Nusra checkpoints in the east of the camp earlier in the day.

Reports vary about how the Islamic State passed through the checkpoints; Nusra fighters at the checkpoints may have defected to IS while others withdrew to the camp to hold it.

Pro-opposition news site Tahrir Souri reported on Thursday that both Nusra and IS are jointly making demands to Yarmouk camp, requesting their participation in future negotiations with the regime and positions of control in Yarmouk.

What is clear is that after months of trying, the Islamic State was able to get past Jabhat a-Nusra in order to enter the camp on Wednesday, and remained there as of publication on Thursday.

YarmoukMap Map courtesy of Amir a-Shami.

“IS has not withdrawn [entirely] from Yarmouk,” Amir a-Shami, a media activist currently in Yarmouk Camp who made the map of the area, told Syria Direct on Thursday, refuting claims from pro-opposition news agencies such as Al-Ghouta Al-Aan saying that local militia fighters had completely regained control of the camp.

“The situation is calm at the moment,” said a-Shami.

The news comes in the wake of fighting between IS and Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, which controls checkpoints in the camp’s south, after the jihadist group’s unexpected storming of the Palestinian camp on Wednesday.

“The fighting between [IS] and Aknaf was right in front of my house,” a civilian, who lives in the heart of the camp and asked to remain anonymous, told Syria Direct.

Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, the strongest of several armed Palestinian and local militia groups vying for control of Yarmouk camp, is a known supporter of Hamas and has strong relations with other rebel groups in the Damascus suburbs.

Several other rebel brigades reportedly came to Yarmouk to aid Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis in its fight against IS, only to be temporarily halted by Jabhat a-Nusra forces that control checkpoints to the east of Yarmouk.

Jaish al-Islam “is participating in the fight against [IS] in Yarmouk refugee camp,” said Jaish al-Islam on Twitter Wednesday.

The Zahran Aloush-led opposition militia is a committed enemy of IS in the Damascus suburbs and around the country.

IS may have entered Yarmouk ostensibly seeking revenge for the kidnapping of several of its members by Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis on Tuesday, following the assassination of a Hamas leader on Monday.

Yarmouk Camp, once home to more than 100,000 Syrians and Palestinians, has been encircled by the regime for over two years, resulting in more than a dozen people who have starved to death as a result. 

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