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​Yarmouk, an announced massacre

the "new Srebrenica" under siege for 2 years

People in Yarmouk

People in Yarmouk

Since 1 April, IS has launched an offensive against the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, near Damascus, and today it managed to seize the nearly total control of it. The first pictures of the murders of Palestinians perpetrated by the militiamen appeared in the social networks, and the Israeli Arab Member of Parliament Ahmed Tibi told the daily newspaper Haaretz that IS killed about a thousand people in the camp, including the imam of the mosque of Hamas. Some witnesses even mentioned 25 cases of beheading.

The Yarmouk camp is believed to be the capital of the Palestinian diaspora. Built in 1957 by the Syrian authorities to host the refugees from the Israeli-Palestinian war, it soon became one of the biggest camps in the Middle East. Until the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Yarmouk was inhabited by 150,000 people.

A law passed by the government of Damascus in 1956 grants Palestinian refugees the same rights as Syrian citizens, favoring their employment and letting them completely free to move. The inhabitants of Yarmouk experienced both Assad governments, first under Hafez, who in the Eighties started tightening his grip on the camp, then with Bashar, who since 2012 has caused several rifts among the Yarmouk Palestinians. The very political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, chose to leave the camp and move to Qatar after refusing to support the Syrian President.

During the calyphate started in 2011, the camp was the scene of a fierce clash between the loyalist army and the opposition. On 16 December 2012, the government’s aviation bombed the camp murdering dozens civilians. Hundreds people fled Damascus or reached Lebanon and Jordan. In July 2013, out of fear of jihadist infiltration, Assad’s army actually sealed off the camp, preventing the access to humanitarian organizations as well and leaving the inhabitants without food, water, electricity, medicals and essential goods. From the first months of 2014, the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees was again admitted into the camp, but only on a temporary basis. The life conditions of the inhabitants remain inhumane.

The evolution of the conflict though changed the political balance in the camp. If earlier the Palestinians from Yarmouk were divided between secularists following the lead of the PLO, more linked to the regime, and the Islamist radicals of Hamas against Assad, now the advance of the IS, supported by Al Nusra, that made it possible for jihadists to enter the camp – got the inhabitants to unite against the common enemy.

Nearly 18,000 people have remained in Yarmouk, including 3,500 children. And it is precisely the spokesperson of Unicef Italy, Andrea Iacomini, to define the situation in Yarmouk as “the new Srebrenica”. “Precisely on 7 April 2014 – said Mr. Iacomini – I deported that since 187 days we had not been able to let humanitarian aid into the camp and there was evidence of serious cases of malnutrition among the children. Now, one year later, I feel like asking: “Where have you been?” The camp has been under siege for two years”.

What is happening today in Yarmouk is thus compared to the extermination of July 1995, when about 8,000 Muslims were killed by the troops of Ratko Mladic in front of the inactivity of the Blue Helmets and the international community. If from this point of view the two situations look quite similar, we should nonetheless forget the particular features of the victims of Srebrenica, who were exterminated with the precise intention of eliminating a given ethnic group from the Bosnian territory – which led to define this massacre as genocide.

9 April 2015

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