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13 Palestinian fighters killed as Syria regime battles IS in Damascus

April 11, 2015 3:23 P.M. (Updated: April 14, 2015 6:26 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Thirteen Palestinian fighters were killed in Yarmouk refugee camp on Saturday as fighting ensued between the Syrian regime and IS in the battle to defend Damascus, local reporters said.

PLO envoy to Syria Ahmed Majdalani announced Saturday that the current situation in Yarmouk was out of the hands of the Palestinian leadership, and that the Syrian regime has officially engaged in a battle to defend Damascus against the Islamic state group.

The 13 reported dead by local news site Yarmouk Camp News were the first reported dead from the new stage of fighting, but among many to be killed since IS took over the camp on April 1.

Majdalani told Ma'an that military action has been imposed on Palestinian groups by IS, forcing them to expand their military operations and end political solutions or negotiations.

"The regime engaged in a battle against Daesh in the camp in defense of the capital, Damascus, and the Syrians and the what concerns us is to reach those who remain in the camp to give them security, and shelter," Majdalani said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

"Decision of a military operation against Daesh in Yarmouk is the decision of the regime, and not our decision," said Majdalani, adding, "The system now fighting in the camp along with the PFLP-General Command."

Majdalani listed several families and groups in Yarmouk that pledged their allegiance to IS after having come under IS control.

On Thursday, during a meeting in Damascus, 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, and released a statement Friday declaring the desire to remain out of the armed conflict in Syria, deploring the potential of shedding the blood of Yarmouk's Palestinian refugees in a conflict that wasn't theirs.

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.
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