Editor’s Note: The Jafra Foundation for Youth Development and Relief operates on the ground in Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, which is the largest Palestinian refugee community in Syria. Information in the below timeline was collected by Jafra, from people with the organization who witnessed first-person the on-going events inside of Yarmouk and have not been independently confirmed.
9 AM, April 1, 2015
Armed groups belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) launched an attack on Yarmouk Camp, entering the camp from the southern neighborhood of Hajar Al Aswad. In coordination with Jabat al-Nusra (Nusra), ISIS captured large portions of southern neighborhoods in Yarmouk Camp by around 2PM. They were able to control the camp by positioning snipers in the tallest buildings inside the southern portion of the camp.
Aknaf Beit Al Maqdis, the largest organized armed Palestinian militia inside the camp, was surprised by their entrance and once informed, immediately began resisting the entrance of ISIS.
Many civilians volunteered to join the fight to defend the camp from ISIS’s entrance. By 6PM on April 1st, Aknaf Beit Al Maqdis took back more than 70% of the areas captured by ISIS earlier in the day. At the end of April 1st, ISIS controlled Palestine Hospital, kidnapping 5 volunteers who had been injured. The whereabouts of these 5 volunteers are still unknown. Since then the hospital has been closed. Clashes continued until 2AM.
Aknaf Beit Al Maqdis, along with those who had volunteered that day (in total about 500 fighters), waited for reinforcements to arrive from other armed opposition groups. These fighters came from Babilla and Beit Sahem. They attempted entrance into Yarmouk after 6PM on April 1st from Palestine Square in the east of the camp but were prevented by Nusra, who had placed heavy weaponry in the square to halt their entrance. It was at this time that Nusra entered the clashes. It was then realized that Nusra had allowed ISIS into the camp, giving them access via streets they had been controlling previously. The two have now joined forces against Aknaf Beit Al Maqdis and other volunteer Palestinian fighters.
Aknaf Beit Al Maqdis and other volunteer Palestinian fighters continued to fight throughout the night, killing and injuring tens of ISIS fighters.
April 2, 2015
Aknaf Beit Al Maqdis, with support from Palestinian civilians who volunteered to fight ISIS, continued to retake control of about 80% of the areas captured by ISIS the previous day. ISIS again began to enter the camp, this time from the east. Again in coordination with Nusra they were able to control more than 60% of the camp. Aknaf Beit Al Maqdis then gathered all their fighters in the northeast of the camp to defend their positions there.
At this time ISIS began to enter the offices of all local organizations in Yarmouk. They entered the Jafra office/center in the middle of Yarmouk, located on Al Madares Street, breaking into the office by destroying an office wall. Three Jafra volunteers were in the office at this time; they were held for 2 hours and released. ISIS destroyed the office and all paperwork inside.
April 3, 2015
Since then heavy clashes have continued. ISIS beheaded two young Palestinian fighters. At least two civilians were killed by shelling, and many lie dead in the street unable to be reached due to increased sniping in the area. Two young women were kidnapped by ISIS from Al Madares Street, their whereabouts are currently unknown. Jamal Khalefe was a 27 year old media activist killed during heavy shelling. ISIS arrested at least 50 Palestinian civilians from Al Arouba neighborhood and arrested an unknown number of Palestinian civilians from Al Madares Street, among them many women and elderly. ISIS executed 7 Palestinian youth near Hamdan Bakery in the middle of Yarmouk Street.
There are no definitive numbers reported for those injured or deceased but as of now 15 people have been confirmed as deceased and around 60 people have been reported in critical condition.
The assumption is that many more are injured and in critical condition. Basel Hospital and Palestine Hospital are unable to provide any services as both hospitals are completely without medical supplies and are currently being occupied by ISIS. There are now no operational hospitals or medical facilities to serve the civilian population inside the besieged camp.
As of noon on April 3rd ISIS and Nusra controlled most of the areas retaken yesterday by Aknaf Beit Al Maqdis. Other armed opposition groups continued fighting in the south and east of Yarmouk camp in attempts to support Aknaf Beit Al Maqdis but are unable to reach Yarmouk because of ongoing clashes with ISIS and Nusra.
The regime continues random heavy shelling and rocket fire in many areas inside Yarmouk Camp as they are aware that ISIS is attempting to control the entirety of besieged southern Damascus.
The besieged civilians inside Yarmouk have already endured almost two years without water, food, and medical supplies. As both hospitals are now closed, civilians are calling for the International Committee of the Red Cross/Crescent (ICRC) and other international organizations to assist in the entrance of medical supplies in order to care for wounded persons. Many injured civilians are in need of immediate evacuation for treatment.
Civilians in besieged Yarmouk have depended completely on water trucking services provided by local NGOs. They have been unable to access water for the last 3 days. Food distribution that was scheduled to take place on April 1st was canceled completely. There are no safe routes for the entrance of food into the camp. All markets are closed. Since ISIS entered the camp, all civilians inside the camp have been unable to access any basic human needs materials. Many remain in their homes as leaving will place them at risk of being kidnapped, arrested, or killed.
All schools inside Yarmouk have closed.
Status of Jafra Work and Volunteers
As of now there is one confirmed death amongst Jafra volunteers. Majed Al Omari was the coordinator of Team Services for Jafra inside Yarmouk. He was killed April 3rd by ISIS forces, shot by sniper fire in the street near his home.
Jafra Foundation has suspended all work inside Yarmouk camp and has asked other local organizations to do the same. Nusra has shared lists of civilian activists working in media, relief and other sectors with ISIS. There is information that Nusra has kidnapped volunteers from other organizations inside the camp.
Jafra implemented its security plan to gather small groups of volunteers together in safe places.
At present all other Jafra volunteers are safe. Jafra continues to work on ensuring the safety of its volunteers.
April 4, 2015
This morning hundreds of IDPs from besieged Yarmouk have faced serious risks to move to safer locations in Damascus and Yelda. The Jafra team is preparing an IDP shelter in Damascus and is also planning to send food baskets, hygiene kits and medical aid to Yelda and Beit Sahem.
Clashes and random heavy shelling have intensified this morning. The Jafra team has worked to enter food baskets and medical aid into southern Damascus, including into Yarmouk. There is extremely limited access to the camp.
With these ongoing clashes Jafra will continue to communicate any updates as they are reported from inside the camp.
“#Yarmouk Will Not Fall” is the last message we have received from our team and the civilians inside besieged Yarmouk Camp.