Friday, 10 July 2015

In Yarmouk, hope is the only currency with value

A child fills a container with water in Yarmouk last month.

 'Yarmouk, Khateeb’s home, a once-bustling neighbourhood in southern Damascus and a symbol of Bashar al-Assad’s regime’s supposed dedication to the Palestinian cause, is in ruins after being starved of food, water and electricity by the government in a brutal three-year siege.
 Khateeb and his friends participated in demonstrations, but never organised anything inside the camp, which housed many refugees fleeing other parts of Syria, to keep it neutral. But, he said, the regime was determined to drag the Palestinians into the conflict, allowing local factions to distribute weapons at random for self-defence and demanding they act as local enforcers.
 In response, rebels entered the camp, the Palestinian factions that were supposed to defend it withdrew and the regime responded with air strikes, many of which killed refugees. It slowly ramped up the siege, first limiting food, medical supplies and fuel, then finally imposing a total blockade that has lasted to this day.
 The brutality of the siege has left Khateeb with a desire for “personal revenge” against a regime whose violence has meant that he had to personally bury about 10 of his friends. It was that brutality, he said, that had led to the rise of extremism in Syria, where Isis now controls roughly half the country’s landmass and Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate, reigns as one of the most powerful rebel groups.
 “Extremism is a result of extremism,” he said. “The revolution was peaceful, the regime acted with monstrosity, people carried weapons. The regime launched air strikes, more gunmen emerged. The regime used chemical weapons, people became Islamist. The regime killed women, people became Nusra. It became more extreme, people became Daesh (Isis).”
 Khateeb was not surprised when Isis entered the camp in collusion with the local branch of Jabhat al-Nusra, many of whom had secretly pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
Still, he resents how the Syrian uprising is portrayed outside the country as a battle between the regime and Isis, which he described as a “cancerous organisation”.
“When Daesh entered, 10 people were killed in the fighting but, before that, 170 people died of hunger,” he said. “Those who see the events in Syria with the lens of Isis and extremism are partners in the massacre against the Syrian people.”
“Yarmouk has been dying for three years,” he added.'

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