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Issue #1608      August 28, 2013

Fear spreads in Palestinian camps in Syria

Yarmouk Palestinian camp, Damascus: Close to 50,000 children from Yarmouk Palestinian camp in Syria have fled Syria, being among the more than one million other children according to Palestinian Popular Committees in the Damascus-Homs area and head of UN children’s agency UNICEF, Anthony Lake. Roughly 75 percent of the Palestinian youngsters fleeing Syria are under the age of 11. They make up a large portion of the UNHCR refugees population that has now exceeded one million who have fled Syria and the two million children who are internally displaced.

Problems for Palestinians fleeing Syria continue at the Syria-Lebanon Masnaa crossing, adding to the number of Palestinian children who are homeless and without prospect of finding shelter or school enrolment, when classes begin next month. Approximately 8,000 children, younger than 15, have been killed so far in the 30-month civil conflict in Syria.

The Palestinian Popular Committee in al-Yarmouk Camp as well as the other 12 camps (two “unofficial”) has reported both directly and indirectly to this observer that they possess information that clearly suggests the possibility, indeed probability, of a terrorist use of chemical weapons in the Camp, calling on the Palestinian factions to take pre-emptive steps to prevent that.

The Popular Committee inside the “free” area of Yarmouk, pockets inside the eastern edge of the camp, advised in a statement, “In the framework of agitating the political and media war against the government of Syria, channels of destruction and sedition have started to air misleading propaganda, claiming that the Syrian Arab Army would fire mortars and or missiles into the Camp with chemical gases, whereas these elements themselves are planning chemical attacks to blame the government much as what happened in Irbin.”

The Committee added, “Those who invaded and destroyed the Camp after having displaced its residents would not hesitate to use the meanest ways of killing and destruction to fulfil the US-Zionist goals.”

The first draft of the statement was written by advisers to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, led by Ahmed Jabril, a staunch supporter of Syria’s President Bashar Assad.

The PFLP was hit by an attack from Israel on August 22. The missile struck just metres from the entrance to one of a series of underground tunnels belonging to the PFLP south of Beirut, where the Palestinian group maintains a military base.

Palestinian camp officials, as with various medical groups, are growing frustrated with the lack of UN activity. One Palestinian youngster told me, “They can give me their equipment and I will gather evidence for them if they are too busy.” Residents in the Damascus suburbs and Yarmouk, seem to be relieved that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has urged the Syrian government to allow in the UN inspectors without delay to thoroughly investigate this crime.

Palestinian sentiment expressed by refugees in Damascus and Homs, on the subject of this crime against humanity, appears to agree with the Syrian government position that allegations of Syrian military involvement are probably false and often point to the illogical timing of the attack, just days after the arrival of the inspectors, as evidence that they were probably not responsible.

This initial tentative conclusion could change. Near Irbid, one now hears estimates of more than 1,500 killed with more and more victims being discovered. At press time, the Unified Medical Bureau for Eastern Gouta is citing even higher figures. One Palestinian member of Yarmouks Popular Committee, whose family village is near Safad, pointed to the location of the attacks, being opposition strongholds in the Ghouta agricultural belt east of Damascus and the areas of Irbin, Jobar, Zamalka and Ain Tarma as well as the town of Muadhamiya which is five miles south.

One reason the casualties figures are so high, people from the gassed areas explain, is due to lack of air conditioning; most residents in this area sleep with their windows opened and victims died in their beds during the early morning attack.

As of early morning on August 23, many of the remaining Palestinians in Yarmouk were seeking somewhere to flee to.

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