March 04, 2014

al-Nusra Offensive in Yarmouk Cuts Off UNRWA Food Distribution

You might recall just last week, the unbelievable photo from those awaiting UNRWA aid.

Miami Herald:
The news is bad out of Yarmouk, the strategic Damascus neighborhood that for a brief while seemed to offer proof that humanitarian aid to a civilian population could be carried out in spite of the ongoing Syrian civil war. Turns out optimism was misplaced. The deal between rebels and supporters of Bashar Assad to let aid be distributed appears to have fallen apart.

Feb. 27 – last Thursday -- was the last day food would get handed out, however, despite the optimism of the day before. Here’s how Gunness reported the day’s events: “UNRWA distributed only 75 food parcels and 200 packages of bread in Yarmouk today, after access was granted at 15:30. At 17:00 the UNRWA team was forced to withdraw following sounds of gunfire in the vicinity of the Tabgha School distribution point.”

Every day since apparently there has been fighting in the northern part of the district. The peace agreement apparently has fallen apart. Nusra, according to some reports, has returned to the area, and pro-government forces are apparently fighting to prevent them from re-establishing themselves.

More here from Ma'an news agency which is a Palestinian outlet.
DAMASCUS (AFP) -- Firefights and shelling on Sunday shattered a weeks-old truce at the Yarmouk Palestinian camp in Damascus, but a ceasefire allowed residents to return to another besieged area near Syria's capital.

...Meanwhile some good news emerged with Spanish journalist Marc Marginedas released by Wahhabi militants in Syria after six months in captivity, said his employer El Periodico newspaper.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front and the pro-regime Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- General Command had resumed hostilities in Yarmouk.

That's good news about Marc Marginedas release. He is reported safe in Turkey.

Here is a pic of what are called ISIS troops in Yarmouk.

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Its from an ISIS feed Twitter feed here. A translatable page is here in this Indonesian site.

This particular branch of ISIS seems to be a unit specific to Damascus rather than the al-Qaeda in Iraq ISIS from the more western part of Syria. There were clashes between that group and allied FSA and al-Nusra groups last week.

The regime put out this video of accused Jihadis in Yarmouk as "proof that their blockade of Yarmouk is justified. Although the translated claim is of Hussein Alouti Brigade which is an extremist Shia group out of Yemen.

An extremist Shia group out of Yemen? Well Islam certainly is creative and diverse when it comes to extremist groups, no?

Anyway, other regime tilted info shows more fighting in the area around Yarmouk.

SNAFU.

Update: One analyst commenting on the ISIS feeds confirms that the ISIS presence in Yarmouk is a limited and local splinter group. Their claims of control are stretching it. Yet there is enough activity among all factions of the rebels in Yarmouk to stop the aid flow.

Q: What’s your sense of ISIS’s presence elsewhere in Damascus and Outer Damascus, particularly in Qalamoun?

Damascus province stands out because this is one of the few areas where ISIS is not fighting with other rebels, everyone's really focused on the regime. That's not to say there are no tensions, but there's been a lack of infighting. Again, it's in this range of dozens at most. But they are not fighting with other rebels. [In Qalamoun], it's pretty much that they're all focused on the priority to push back against regime forces. ISIS in Qalamoun does have a bit of history, in that in the past they did have joint fronts with Jabhat a-Nusra and this Saudi muhajireen-led battalion called the Green Battalion, which basically was announced in August and is led by Saudis, though it does have a number of other nationalities, including native Syrians.

It does kind of shatter last week's portrayal of aid distribution where Youmouk is portrayed as containing only helpless unarmed starving Palestinian orphans.

There are fighters of all groups in and around the area.

By Howie at 11:31 AM | Comments |