Palestinian refugees stream into Lebanon from Syria
Battle for Yarmouk refugee camp on the southern fringes of Damascus has pitted Palestinians fighting alongside rebels against Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command loyal to Assad • Over 1,000 Palestinian refugees cross into Lebanon in past 24 hours.
News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
Syrian refugees cross the Lebanese-Syrian border of al-Masnaa 20 July 2012. [Archive]
Photo credit: Reuters
Videos published on the Internet appear to show people streaming out of the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus on Monday, which Syrian rebels claim to have captured.
Reuters is unable to independently verify the video content, but one shows a steady stream of people carrying bundles and luggage as they walk down a street covered with debris.
More than 1,000 Palestinian refugees have crossed into Lebanon in the past 24 hours, a source at the Lebanese border said on Tuesday, after Syrian rebels took control of a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus.
"Heroes of the FSA operating under the Furqan Brigade enter the Yarmouk refugee camp now," the cameraman can be heard saying. "God is great. Assad forces and the traitor Ahmad Jibril and his men have been removed from the town. 17-12-2012. God is great. FSA in the Yarmouk camp now. This is a reason to be very happy!"
Opposition activists said Syrian fighter jets bombed Yarmouk on Sunday, killing at least 25 people taking shelter in a mosque.
They said troops and tanks were gathered outside the camp on Monday, and that inside there were clashes between Palestinian factions loyal to and opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The battle has pitted rebels, backed by some Palestinians, against Palestinian fighters of the pro-Assad Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Many PFLP-GC fighters defected to the rebel side and their leader Ahmed Jibril left the camp three days ago, rebel sources said.
Aid workers said on condition of anonymity that street clashes had reduced in intensity on Tuesday and there was no sign of the PLFL-GC in Yarmouk, but government bombardment continued and some fleeing residents were sitting in parks in the neighboring districts of Midan and Zahra.
They said rebels were spread out across the camp, including in the abandoned PFLP-GC headquarters.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday he is ready to take in Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria's civil war.
Abbas said he has asked U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to help in bringing the refugees to the Palestinian territories. This could include the West Bank, where Abbas governs, or the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The request was reported Wednesday by the official Wafa news agency.
The statement says there are 450,000 Palestinian refugees living in 10 camps in Syria. Abbass says the biggest camp, Yarmouk, "has been through a difficult situation due to the escalating conflict in Syria."
Any movement of refugees into the West Bank would need the consent of Israel. Israel's Foreign Ministry had no comment.
Syria hosts half a million Palestinian refugees, most living in Yarmouk and descendants of those admitted after the creation of Israel in 1948, and has always cast itself as a champion of the Palestinian struggle, sponsoring several guerrilla factions.
Um Mohammed, 65, arrived at the Lebanese border in a bus with several Palestinian families. "There is a huge amount of destruction. There are armed men in the street," she said.
Others said that rebels, supported by the Palestinian fighters, were taking control of the area.
"The camps are 80 percent controlled by the (rebel) Free Syrian Army and Palestinian fighters," said Muna, a young woman who entered Lebanon on Tuesday afternoon. "All of the [pro-Assad] PFLP fighters have left the area."
Abu Ali, 75, said he left his home in Yarmouk on Tuesday morning with his wife and three children as artillery shells rained down on the neighborhood of densely built apartment blocks.
"We walked out on foot without our belongings until we reached central Damascus. We got in a taxi and drove straight for the border," said the elderly man at the Lebanese Masnaa border post.
Abu Ali says he will stay with relatives in Ain al-Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon's southern city of Sidon. He estimated that 70% of Yarmouk's residents had fled but added that many slept on the streets in Damascus.
The camp, on the southern fringes of Damascus, falls within a swathe of outlying suburbs running from the east to southwest of the capital.
More than half a million Syrian refugees have fled into neighboring countries during the revolt, and the U.N. refugee agency say 3,000 are now seeking refuge abroad daily.
Lebanon — the closest country to Damascus — hosts 154,000 Palestinian refugees, but aid agencies say a rebel push into the Syrian capital could force more than 10,000 to flee in hours.
It is not clear if the Syrian army will try to re-enter Yarmouk in the coming days but Muna said she could see troops massing as she left the area.
"The army is on the outskirts of Yarmouk. We passed several government checkpoints to get out."