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Yarmouk Camp: In the Throes of Starvation

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Message Ahmad Barqawi

Their ambivalent stance was not enough, for no middle ground is safe in the Syrian war. No middle ground to be found there anyway. And the worst thing that could happen to the Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk Camp is being impartial at a time when the Arab World is so thoroughly drenched in Bush's woebegone doctrine of "you're either with us or against us", a time when divisions reign supreme and self-imposed partitions are the order of the day. They were demanded to choose a side and choose it quickly, either the hammer or the anvil" only to be crushed in between.

The strategic geographic location of the camp on the southern outskirts of Damascus meant that its residents were no longer spoilt with the luxury of safe choices, a deadly case of damned if you do and even more damned if you don't;  It also meant that the Palestinian refugees inside the camp were reduced to nothing more than a small "inconvenience" in the ever onward, grinding pursuit of military supremacy from both sides of the conflict, a mere banal obstacle to be gotten around when military commanders unfurl their maps and plot their next counter-attack, and it's always a counter-attack" with plenty of "collateral damage" sure to be left in its devastating wake.

The Islamist armed groups of the opposition saw the camp as the Syrian government's Achilles' heel and nothing else, a prize-catch in their desperate quest to "conquer" Damascus; the perfect springboard for their intended "Jihad" against the regime's main stronghold, practically putting a target on the camp's back and turning its entire refugee population into a huge block of human shields held hostage to the flick of these groups' military whims; not that it was going to deter the Syrian government anyway which in turn saw the camp strictly as a potential (intolerable) breach in its skintight security belt around the capital. One that needed to be fixed" militarily.

The armed opposition's all-guns-blazing infiltration into, and subsequent control over Yarmouk in late 2012 has plunged its Palestinian refugees headfirst into the throes of the Syrian war; transforming the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria into a "hostile territory" for the Syrian Army. It certainly didn't help matters that Palestinian factions inside the camp actively took opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, with Hamas (or the remnants thereof) siding with Islamic opposition fighters (purely on ideological, sectarian grounds) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- General Command (PFLP -- GC) siding with the regime; the camp became a sandbox for Islamist militants and anti-government dissidents to wage their holy war against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

For the Al Nusra front and other Islamist fighting militias; taking control over the camp was primarily a matter of scoring territorial advances against the "infidel" regime, it constituted the closest front they'll ever manage to get to Damascus, only this "pyrrhic victory" has had the camp caught in a tight militaristic death-grip where foreign backed insurgents are wreaking doomed havoc inside the camp (including looting, arbitrary seizure of properties and taking on human shields), and the Syrian army is giving the area the full "military-zone" treatment; imposing a full-fledged siege on most parts of the camp, particularly its northern entrance which connects directly to Damascus.

Today residents of the Yarmouk camp find themselves caught in the midst of a marathonic scorched-earth power struggle between the two warring parties with minimal to zero regard for civilians caught in the crossfire, whose lives have practically devolved into feeding on grass, leaves and animal feed.

Stripped away from their humanity and squashed down to near-invisibility; Palestinian refugees inside the camp are now either lost in the tall grass of callous military calculations and battle maneuverings, or forgotten under the crust of reshuffled priorities of bickering Palestinian factions, all the while facing death in its most deplorable of forms; starvation.

Forty-six people have died of hunger, dehydration and malnutrition in the Yarmouk camp, and this number is looking to rise; especially with the trigger-happy insurgents inside the camp preventing aid convoys from advancing further and stonewalling all attempts at delivering much needed humanitarian aid and supplies to the malnourished population.

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Ahmad Barqawi, a Palestinian freelance columnist & writer, he has done several studies, statistical analysis and researches on economic and social development.

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