‘No to martyrdom by hunger in Yarmouk camp’: Palestinian refugees protest Assad’s siege

Middle East
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Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk neighborhood of Damascus took to the streets on January 18th to protest the siege imposed by the Assad government.

Children marched with signs reading “The children of Yarmouk are dying of hunger and cold” and “No to hunger for our children and our elderly!” Other protesters held a banner reading “No to martyrdom by hunger in Yarmouk camp.” The refugees also chanted “We are, we are refugees,” among other political and religious slogans.

During the rally, a representative spoke on behalf of the local armed opposition groups “to address lies of the ‘traitors’ and to protest the killing of” two Palestinians. He called “on all armed groups to respect these martyrs,” and demanded “the opening of the camp, as it is in the interest of our people.” He said “we know of the hardships our people, suffering inside and out,” and insisted that “our military factions in this camp all agree for an immediate ceasefire to open the camp and let in aid workers and to remove any excuse by the regime and shabiha [paramilitary units that act as unofficial regime troops] to withhold aid.”

Over Two Years of Starvation and Suffering

Since December 2012, civilians in Yarmouk, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria—what some refer to as the “capital of the Palestinian diaspora”—have been under siege and constant attack by the Syrian regime. Assad has bombed and shelled them, destroying much of the neighborhood’s infrastructure and even UNRWA shelters. Amnesty International has characterized the Syrian government’s siege on Yarmouk as “brutal” and has accused the Assad regime of carrying out “war crimes and crimes against humanity” against Palestinian and Syrian civilians in the neighborhood.

In 2011, on the eve of the revolution, the UN estimated approximately 160,000 people lived in Yarmouk. When the regime began to target densely populated civilian areas with heavy artillery, many Palestinians fled, becoming refugees once again, for a second time. As of July 2014, UNRWA estimated that there were still 18,000 civilians “trapped” in Yarmouk.

Under the siege, the regime controls essentially everything that goes into Yarmouk. Palestinians have been trying to survive on starvation diets for years. Food is so scarce that refugees have resorted to eating grass, cats and dogs, animal feed, and dirt. Many have died from hunger, and infant malnutrition is skyrocketing. Moreover, the lack of access to healthcare and the destruction of the Yarmouk’s infrastructure has led to women frequently dying in childbirth, as well as to the outbreak of many diseases.

A gargantuan line of starving refugees in Yarmouk waiting for food aid. The authenticity of this photo has been confirmed by both the UN and image forensics specialists. (Photo: UNRWA/AP)

A gargantuan line of starving refugees in Yarmouk waiting for food aid. The authenticity of this photo has been confirmed by both the UN and image forensics specialists.
(Photo: UNRWA/AP)

In an early 2014 interview with Mondoweiss, a Palestinian refugee said “Total closure means nobody and nothing goes in or out. So there is now a total lack of food, medicine and diesel, and all other materials. … there is a shortage of electricity and the situation is more and more collapsing… there are around 500 wounded persons and they need special care, direct medical help and evacuation.”

Critics have pointed out that the Syrian regime justifies this brutal siege on Yarmouk with many of the same excuses Israel has used to justify its illegal siege on Gaza. Paralleling Israeli officials’ arguments about Hamas and Gaza, Assad characterizes Yarmouk as a hotbed for terrorists who oppose his rule and argues that it is therefore justified to bomb, shell, and starve civilian areas in order to uproot such a presence. Amnesty International has accused the regime of using starvation as a “weapon of war,” as a form of collective punishment aimed at defeating armed rebels in the area.

One of the principal ways in which Assad has tried to justify his rule is with claims that he, unlike the Arab countries surrounding Syria, supports the Palestinian people. Many Palestinians in Yarmouk, nevertheless, have found such a claim to ring hollow and unsubstantiated, particularly after incidents in 2011 in which the regime-backed PFLP-GC (unaffiliated with the PFLP) led to the deaths of numerous Palestinians. Assad’s two-year siege and bombardment of the largest Palestinian refugee camp in all of Syria has led many to further question the authenticity of his purported support.

Many thanks to Rami Safadi for helping with the translations in this article.

About Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a journalist and writer based in New York City. His work has been featured in a variety of publications. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton. His website is BenNorton.com.

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17 Responses

  1. Atlantaiconoclast
    January 22, 2015, 11:01 am

    One thing is clear. Arming Assad’s opponents will only lead to more bloodshed and misery. This is a very difficult situation, and heartbreaking. If Assad is forced out, what we see here might look like a picnic. Even many of Assad’s critics now want him to defeat the so called rebels, for the alternative is so much worse. And don’t forget that the Israel lobby is pushing for greater American support for the rebels. That can’t be good for the Syrian people. Israel just wants continued instability in Syria, and a civil war is an easy way to get it. Read Oded Yinon’s words. This was planned by the Likudniks back in the 80s.

  2. Bandolero
    January 22, 2015, 12:01 pm

    audiatur et altera pars

    SANA, 18.01.2015:

    Terrorists continue attacks on aid distribution site in besieged Yarmouk Camp

    Terrorist organizations continue to block the besieged residents of Yarmouk Camp neighborhood in Damascus from gaining access to humanitarian aid by targeting the convoys sometimes and attacking the residents at other times.

    The terrorists’ attacks, which have included gun, sniper and mortar fire, often occur upon the arrival of representatives from the General Authority for Palestine Arab Refugees (GAPAR) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) at the site where the relief supplies are being distributed. …

    http://www.sana.sy/en/?p=25350

    Sharmine Narwani, 10.11.2014

    Stealing Palestine: Who dragged Palestinians into Syria’s conflict?

    http://rt.com/op-edge/203907-palestine-syria-shelling-clashes-conflict/

    • just
      January 22, 2015, 12:08 pm

      Thank you, Bandolero.

      I read this article, and then went into my bookmarks for other articles such as the one that you brought.

      All I know is that massive numbers of Palestinians are suffering… the blame lies with the Occupier and the perpetrator of the Nakba.

    • Walid
      January 22, 2015, 12:28 pm

      Bandolero, true that not all the bad stories you hear about Syria are true, but neither are all the stories you hear about Syria being squeeky clean. Today barrel bombs dropped by the Syrian army on supposed terrorist positions resulted in killing 13 civilians. But this is reported by the Central Observatory for Human Rights that reports only on Syrian government misdeeds, same as with the situation in Yarmouk. This Central Observatory with a heavy sounding name is actually a one-man show operating out of the guy’s house in Coventry, UK , so you can take what he says with a grain of salt. From NYT a couple of years back, he’s most probably funded by the US:

      “A Very Busy Man Behind the Syrian Civil War’s Casualty Count

      Andrew Testa for The New York Times
      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/10/world/middleeast/the-man-behind-the-casualty-figures-in-syria.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

      By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
      Published: April 9, 2013

      COVENTRY, England — Military analysts in Washington follow its body counts of Syrian and rebel soldiers to gauge the course of the war. The United Nations and human rights organizations scour its descriptions of civilian killings for evidence in possible war crimes trials. Major news organizations, including this one, cite its casualty figures.
      Multimedia

      Yet, despite its central role in the savage civil war, the grandly named Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is virtually a one-man band. Its founder, Rami Abdul Rahman, 42, who fled Syria 13 years ago, operates out of a semidetached red-brick house on an ordinary residential street in this drab industrial city.

      Using the simplest, cheapest Internet technology available, Mr. Abdul Rahman spends virtually every waking minute tracking the war in Syria, disseminating bursts of information about the fighting and the death toll. What began as sporadic, rudimentary e-mails about protests early in the uprising has swelled into a torrent of statistics and details.

      All sides in the conflict accuse him of bias, and even he acknowledges that the truth can be elusive on Syria’s tangled and bitter battlefields. That, he says, is what prompts him to keep a tight leash on his operation.

      “I need to control everything myself,” said Mr. Abdul Rahman, a bald, bearish, affable man. “I am a simple citizen from a simple family who has managed to accomplish something huge using simple means — all because I really believe in what I am doing.”

      • Bandolero
        January 22, 2015, 12:42 pm

        Walid

        I know that there is no such thing as a clean war.

        Regarding “Rami Abdul Rahman” (I forgot his real name) running the “SOHR”, there were Western media reports that he admitted to be funded by the British government and the EU. How he and the western and GCC mass media incited the war in Syria with spreading deliberatley faked news, was once described by Ali Abunimah:

        http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/how-cnn-helped-spread-hoax-about-syrian-babies-dying-incubators

        And while the uprising in Syria has of course real internal causes, too, the whole Syrian uprising is in general built on fake news and was, like the whole “arab spring”, planned by the US in the MEPI programme. Obama gave order to start the “arab spring” wars in his “Presidential Study Directive 11” in August 2010:

        http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2011/03/06/obamas_calculated_gamble_109123.html

        And when one further knows that MEPI was created under George W. Bush by Ultra-Zionist Jeffrey Feltman in State dept, one can easily understand whom the whole “Arab Spring” wars were designed to serve: Israel, Israel, and Israel.

      • Walid
        January 22, 2015, 1:02 pm

        100% right on, Bandolero, Jeffrey Feltman testified to a Senate Committee to having spent $400 million of State Dept budget on a PR program with Lebanon’s youth to discredit Hizbulah. It yielded poor results; money couldn’t buy love.

        Now since a few weeks, the International Tribunal that has been looking into the 2005 Hariri assassination shifted its attention from Hizbullah and is back chasing after proof that Syria was behind it. It blew the first 5 years investigating Syria and concluded it had nothing to do with it, started chasing leads involving Hizbullah for 2 years and now has again changed course and is back trying to pin it on Syria. The 300 people from 40 countries running the Special Tribunal have a guaranteed job for the next 20 years. Total annual operating costs of the tribunal of $50 million and to date have cost over $500 million, paid 50% by Lebanon and the other 50% by UN donor countries most probably comprised of only the US.

      • Bandolero
        January 22, 2015, 1:34 pm

        Walid
        I know the Harari murder case quite well. A friend of mine wrote a book about it:

        http://www.voltairenet.org/article143460.html

        It’s very obvious that Israel did commit that murder to blame it on Syria, kickstart the color revolution in Lebanon and thereby kick the Syrian troops out of Lebanon. After that succeeded but Hezbollah nevertheless was able to take over the role of Syria in Lebanon, Israel launched the 2006 war on Hezbollah.

        To blame the Hariri murder on Syria the international investigators and prosecutors (some notorious Germans were also involved) bought even false witnesses. When these false witnesses were uncovered as liars, the investigation suddenly said not Syria, but Hezbollah had done it. Since it’s creation the fraudulent STL is following US-Israeli orders and not allowed to go after Israel as the obvious prime suspect for the Hariri murder.

    • Rusty Pipes
      January 23, 2015, 6:21 pm

      Thanks, Bandolero. Narwani, always worth a read, puts Yarmouk in context of all Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and the way that Palestinians have been exploited. As she notes, several outlets, including Electronic Intifada, have published pro-insurgent propaganda, using Palestinian refugees’ plight: “More Yarmouk propaganda published by @intifada: http://electronicintifada.net/content/siding-life-face-death-photographer-captures-siege-palestinians-syria/14089 … Placating western critics of #Syria over championing Palestinians…” At least this piece isn’t as maudlin as the Shane Bauer piece in Mother Jones a few months ago, where he was still trying to frame the insurgents as variants of Gay Girl in Damascus.

      • Walid
        January 25, 2015, 1:16 am

        Rusty Pipes, Palestinians have been going through a succession of catastrophes since 1948, having to move from one refugee camp to another and more often than not, through making wrong calls and backing the wrong horse, and Yarmouk is no exception. It wasn’t without cause that Khaled Meshaal had to pack up and leave Damascus after all these years as he too played the Qatar horse in the Syrian conflict. Now he’s having to relocate again from Doha to either Iran or Turkey. Palestinians are allowing armed fundy rebels to stay in the camps and when the going starts getting rough, they want them to leave. Another Yarmouk in the making is the Ain el Helweh camp in Lebanon situated on the outskirts of the city of Saida. It’s a camp of 150,000 refugees, armed to the teeth, a no-man’s land for the Lebanese authorities and currently a nesting place for both al-Qaeda and Nusra/ISIS untouchables and sooner or later to be turned into another Nahr al-Bared theatre. To suffer will be the tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians that want nothing other than to be left alone in their squalid camp. All this to say where Yarmouk came from that’s bearing the brunt of both the Nusra/ISIS fighters and the regime’s army. It’s sad what the camp’s remaining 18,000 are going through, but most of those are probably armed insurgents. Even sadder is the plight of the other 140,000 refugees that fled the camp to other locations, for some their 4th or 5th relocation.

  3. HarryLaw
    January 22, 2015, 1:21 pm

    “During the rally, a representative spoke on behalf of the local armed opposition groups insisted that “our military factions in this camp all agree for an immediate ceasefire to open the camp and let in aid workers” Oh, so the armed groups are partly responsible for the conditions, most Palestinians reject those Islamist groups like Al Nusra and IS, but some [a distinct minority] and from a sectarian basis do. That’s unfortunate since the Hamas leadership and other Palestinian resistance factions support Hezbollah and Iran and are thankful for their military and financial support.

  4. OyVey00
    January 22, 2015, 2:06 pm

    Assad didn’t start the Syrian civil war. It was the West who torched up his country. He might be no angel, but compared to the US and Israel he’s practically a saint.

    This “Arab spring” b/s promoted by the West has costed hundreds of thousands of lives already. Anyone with a little concern for the victims should pray that Assad can restore order in Syria and end the civil war. Because if he doesn’t, certainly many more millions will die.

    • just
      January 22, 2015, 6:45 pm

      +1, OyVey00.

      Way O/T, but in the region: “Saudi King Abdullah dies”

      http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/1.638608?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

    • Walid
      January 23, 2015, 12:20 pm

      “… but compared to the US and Israel he’s practically a saint. ”

      You’re going overboard there, Oy Vey. I wouldn’t refer to him as a saint by any measure. True the West torched up his country, but had he given the people an honest-to-goodness new constitution as he had promised instead of the cosmetic re-write of the oppressive one they had, the West wouldn’t have made it to first base in its destruction.

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