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Statement: PLO will not be drawn into armed conflict in Syria

April 10, 2015 9:26 P.M. (Updated: April 14, 2015 12:26 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Palestine Liberation Organization will not be drawn into an armed campaign in the beleaguered Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, a statement said Friday.

The PLO said: "We refuse to be drawn into any armed campaign, whatever its nature or cover," and called for a resort "to other means to spare the blood of our people."

The statement contradicts earlier PLO backing for a joint military operation to be formed with the Syrian government to expel the Islamic State group from the Damascus-area camp.

On Thursday, during a meeting in Damascus, PLO official Ahmed Majdalani said that 14 Palestinian factions supported "a security solution that will be carried out in partnership with the Syrian state" in order to clear the camp of extremist militants.

Following his comments, on Friday, senior Fatah official Major-General Tawfiq al-Tirawi called on party members in Lebanon and Syria to arm themselves and head to Yarmouk to fight IS.

Al-Tirawi told Ma'an that although Palestinian refugees are neutral in Syria's civil war, "terrorist groups like IS, al-Nusra Front and others" had pushed Palestinians into the conflict.

The PLO has long sought a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of Arab nations.

In Friday's statement, the organisation confirmed "its permanent position in refusing to be drawn into the midst of the ongoing conflict in Syria," as well as "its absolute refusal to be part of the ongoing armed conflict in al-Yarmouk refugee camp."

The PLO said it would "work in order to stop all forms of aggression and armed actions" in coordination with the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, as well as "all parties that have a common interest not to drag the camp to more devastation."

'The deepest circle of hell'

The IS advance into Yarmouk has sparked international concern and warnings from rights and aid groups that life in the camp has become more desperate then ever.

IS launched their attack on Apr. 1, and although Palestinians fighters were initially able to repel the assault, the group later counter-attacked and together with rival group al-Nusra Front seized up to 90 percent of the camp.

Residents who have managed to flee Yarmouk spoke this week of horrors committed by IS militants.

"I saw severed heads. They killed children in front of their parents. We were terrorized," said Ibrahim Abdel Fadel who fled with his wife and seven children.

Although hundreds of residents were evacuated, up to 18,000 residents remain inside the camp, which has been besieged by the Syrian army for more than a year.

Since the militant advance, regime forces have pounded the camp with shells and barrel bombs.

The camp was once home to 160,000 people, Syrians as well as Palestinians, but its population has dwindled since the uprising erupted in March 2011.

On Thursday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for action to prevent a massacre at Yarmouk, warning: "A refugee camp is beginning to resemble a death camp."

He said that the refugees, including 3,500 children, have been "turned into human shields", with armed fighters inside the camp and government forces outside.

"In the horror that is Syria, the Yarmouk refugee camp is the deepest circle of hell," Ban said, calling for the fighting to stop so aid can be delivered.

More than 230,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests which spiraled into war after a regime crackdown.

AFP contributed to this report.
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