Home inContext Al-Qaeda Affiliate Leaves Yarmouk Refugee Camp

Al-Qaeda Affiliate Leaves Yarmouk Refugee Camp

Alex Finkelstein

The al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist organization Jabhat al-Nusra, withdrew from the Yarmouk Refugee camp in Southern Damascus on Tuesday. Its retreat was part of a deal negotiated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), an opposing militant group allied with the regime of Bashar al-Asad.

Yarmouk, originally established in 1948 after the creation of Israel, held a population of over 160,000 people when fighting broke out in 2011. Now home to only 18,000 Palestinian refugees, the camp has experienced one of the worst humanitarian crises in Syria. Rebels took control of the area in December 2012 hoping that it would pave their way to controlling Damascus. But Syrian government forces slowed the Rebel’s advance and have laid siege to the camp for nearly a year.

A Free Syrian Army fighter sits on sandbags in the refugee camp of Yarmouk, near Damascus, May 5, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

Despite UN calls to relieve the hardship of civilians in the area, the humanitarian situation in Yarmouk remains dire. People have resorted to eating grass, and have lived without electricity, heating, and water for almost a year. Aid workers have been fired upon, and blocked from delivering needed supplies. The recently negotiated settlement will hopefully facilitate the evacuation of ill and wounded residents as well as remove any restrictions on aid.

The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has also taken an active role in trying resolving the Yarmouk crisis, reaching out to Iranian officials who support Bashar al-Asad. Predominantly Sunni, Hamas initially voiced support for Syrian rebels fighting al-Asad, but eventually backed down after Iran reduced funding to the group. A Hamas spokesman quoted in Turkish Press says Tehran played an important part in the mediation; if the terms of the deal hold, neither side will be able to stage attacks from the camp.