Conflict

Rebels Evacuate Yarmouk Camp As The Syrian Army Continues Offensive

Syria

As the Opposition factions begin their evacuation from the Yarmouk Camp in southern Damascus, the Syrian Arab Army intensifies its attacks on ISIS militants.

Two weeks after the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allied Palestinian militias launched their offensive, the Yarmouk Camp and the nearby districts of Hajar al-Aswad, Qadam, Tadamoun, Babbila, Yalda and Beit Sahm continue to witness heavy fighting. Although the ISIS militants continue to maintain their grip on the Yarmouk Camp proper and the Hajar al-Aswad District to the south, the rebel factions that control the remaining districts and neighbourhoods have recently agreed to evacuate.

The evacuation agreements cover two separate segments, one involving Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) which occupied a small territory clustered around the Rijeh Square wedged between ISIS and the SAA. Some of the HTS militants here had already been evacuated in 2017 as part of the renewed Four Towns Agreement that saw an even number of loyalist fighters and civilians evacuate from the besieged towns of Foua and Kafraya in Idlib. The agreement, which was suspended after the initial evacuations, was reactivated in light of the developments here in the camp. The HTS has since vacated its holdings entirely, allowing the SAA to gain control of these areas.

The other segment of the agreements involve a variety of rebel groups that control Yalda, Babbila and Beit Sahm such as Jaish al-Islam, the Hamas-linked Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis and the Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated Jaish al-Ababil. The areas under the control of these groups have already been under a prolonged state of ceasefire. Since the fighting around the camp began, the government authorities have been pressuring the rebels here to either evacuate, or accept a “reconciliation” agreement. The factions here have since chosen to accept the agreement to spare themselves and the people here the destruction that visited East Ghouta. The evacuation of the rebel fighters here has since commenced.

These developments have allowed the SAA and its allied militias to tighten their grip around the ISIS-held neighbourhoods. The pro-Government forces have since taken control of much of Qadam and Tadamoun, including the neighbourhoods of Asali and Ma’azniya and pushing further into Yarmouk Camp proper and Hajar al-Aswad.

It is unknown how the civilian population, estimated to number between 6,000 to 18,000 (down from its 2011 population of 150,000 to 180,000), fares amidst heavy fighting. The few that escaped say that indiscriminate and heavy shelling has killed many families. There are also reports of shortages of food and medical supplies.