Sixty Palestinian refugees were arrested by the Syrian regime on Thursday while attempting to escape from the Yarmouk Refugee Camp in southern Damascus. They were detained for several hours before being returned forcibly to the camp, which is currently under heavy bombardment by the Assad regime and its Russian allies.
The area has been fought over by various rebel groups since late 2012, and was captured by Daesh and its affiliates from the Free Syrian Army a number of times over the years. It remains one of the last pockets under the control of Daesh in the war-torn country, and the regime aims to retake the entire district with its offensive launched in April. An estimated 3,500 Palestinians have fled the Yarmouk Camp over the past week alone because of the fierce fighting and bombing.
The campaign to take Yarmouk comes after the former rebel-held district of eastern Ghouta was retaken completely by regime forces last month after the rebels surrendered. It came, however, at the cost of a brutal chemical gas attack and sustained air strikes throughout years of a government siege. More than 1,000 residents were killed.
Since the 1950s, the Yarmouk Camp has had the highest population of Palestinian refugees in Syria, and has served as a base for Palestinian militias fighting against Daesh and other groups since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict. Last week, Hamas appealed to all warring parties in Syria not to involve Palestinian refugees in the conflict, with Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif Al-Qanoua urging them to end their suffering. “They are refugees whose only aspirations and hopes are to return to their homes, cities and villages, from which they were expelled by the Israeli occupation,” he pointed out.