Damascus Street Notes
Rebel controlled Yarmouk Palestinian Camp empties pending government counter-attack
Yarmouk camp, Damascus
A few thoughts rushed through this observers mind when he saw a distraught looking woman sitting alone, tightly holding two babies, at one corner of the vast parking lot of the central Damascus bus station known as Al-Soumariyeh . It is from here where inexpensive transportation can be had for those traveling west, east, north and south.
One thought was about a character out of a Charles Dickens novel and the other was "waif, frail, malnourished, frightened', so the lady, holding the babies appeared. She managed a polite but weak smile as I passed and she said "hello."
Long story made short, the lady and I chatted and it turned out that Souha was fleeing the al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood on the southern edge of Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp. This is one of the "hot-line' areas of Yarmouk, where on 12/16/12 approximately 400 Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front) militia fighters joined by various other salafist jihadists defeated Palestinian "popular committees" fighters supposedly loyal to Ahmed Jabil's, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-GC (PFLP-GC). There are various unconfirmed estimates of how many "General Command' fighters defected during the fighting to the rebel forces, but the PFLP-GC admits that some did. Also in the camp are some fighters from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and the Popular Front (PFLP).
Souha who is studying English literature, had lost her husband and was trying to travel to Ein el Helwe refugee camp in Saida, Lebanon. She had the name of a distant relative, she thought was still living in Ein el Helwe, but she was unsure how to find her but knew that she desperately needed to get out of Syria.
Nearly 70% ( UNWRA puts the figure at 90%) of the 180,000 Yarmouk camp residents in the 2.1 square-kilometer camp area have, as of this morning fled. This figure was provided by, Anwar Raja, politburo member of the "General Command" with whom this observer had a three hour meeting during the night of 12/18/2012 inside the north edge of Yarmouk. Any camp resident with a MTN or Syriatel mobile phone got a text message, from the Syrian military to leave the camp for their own safety.
Souha asked me if I had heard about the problems of the Palestinian people and explained that she fled the bombing at Yarmouk camp and that most of her neighbors also scattered. Some of the thousands of refugees who continue to flee Yarmouk can be seen today near central Damascus, and sitting in the streets of Midan. These areas are still safe. Other are huddled in parks and camped under concrete underpasses, in schools, mosques and basically anywhere they can find a spot. Many are sleeping on sidewalks at al-Sabaa Bahrat square. A friend and I spoke last night to a family of four who had only thin UNCHR blankets for the night.
Souha said she was afraid to seek safety in a Mosque because they are no longer a safe refuge and she explained that she passed about a dozen bodies on the steps and front ground next to the Abdul Qader Al-Hosseini mosque as she left Yarmouk.
Happy to learn that there are actually non-stop vans going from central Damascus to Saida, Lebanon, without having to change vehicles, we found the driver, agreed on a price of 30 LL (about $ 45) for Souha and the same price for her two babies. I insisted on a two-for-one price for the little ones and since it was starting to get dark, the nice fellow agreed. I gave Souha what money I had and also contact information for friends in Lebanon who I knew would help her.
As the van pulled off she waved from the window and I could not help thinking that she may not get much help from the Lebanese government on arriving. Yet I knew that Palestinians there would assist her. I recalled the words of the late murdered Khalil al Wazir (Abu Jihad) when he explained nearly three decades ago, to this observer and the American journalist, Janet Stevens,: "At the end of the day, we Palestinians can rely only on ourselves." I did not dwell much on his words at the time but since then I have come to understand very well what the great Resistance leader meant.