Palestinians Refugees Hope for Cease-fire in Syrian Camp

Article Summary
Palestinians from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus are hoping talks between rebels and the government will allow residents to return, but a deal may be difficult, writes Ziad Haydar.

Palestinian sources from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus said it may take up to a week before the ongoing negotiations between the Palestinian factions and the armed groups that occupy a large part of the camp lead to any results. Meanwhile, there were reports that Dr. Iyad Shihabi, a member of the Civil National Palestinian Authority, was kidnapped and that a Hamas official named Essam Khazaee was killed.

The statement of Muhammad Younis, the foreign-relations official in Fatah, came a day after the alliance of Palestinian factions in Damascus announced the need for "political escalation" in order to implement the camp agreement. The alliance called on Hamas — given the movement's relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and its impact on the Syrian National Council and the National Coalition — not to spare any effort in this regard and asked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to establish contact with countries that "have an impact on these groups."

Younis told As-Safir that the fundamental problem lies in the "absence of one party leading the armed groups in the camp," knowing that the Civil National Palestinian Authority and the factions are calling for the implementation of the agreement reached in their negotiations with the military council.

Palestinian sources announced more than once in the past two days that an agreement had been reached. According to the agreement, "The Syrian army won't target or storm the Yarmouk refugee camp, and the Free Syrian Army battalions will withdraw from the camp and remove the earth mounds on 30th and Loubieh Streets in the Yarmouk refugee camp, among others, and the siege on the Yarmouk refugee camp will be lifted" in order for the displaced to start returning to the camp the very next day.

But none of these clauses were implemented, and the "civil" attempt to enforce the agreement by moral force also ended in failure. Meanwhile, efforts were made last Monday [Jan. 7] ​​to gather a number of volunteers in front of the camp to prepare to enter it in spite of the circumstances. This attempt, in turn, was doomed to failure. Many civilians were killed by mortar shells that fell in the middle of the camp as fighting continued sporadically throughout the day and night.

During a press conference in Damascus yesterday [Jan. 9], representatives of the Palestinian factions close to the Syrian regime demanded the "demilitarization" of the Yarmouk refugee camp and called on the leaders of the PLO and Hamas to establish contact with Arab, regional and international countries so that refugees who fled the camp due to violence could return.

According to Younis, the official Syrian side is cooperating to facilitate the implementation of the agreement, but the other side is raising "unachievable demands,"  as he put it. These include the evacuation from the camp of any aspect of the Syrian state presence. Younis said the camp "is an administrative part of Damascus and the administrative and official bodies are indispensable there,” and added that the main objective is for "the camp to return to its residents and vice versa."

Meanwhile, activists posted on their Facebook pages that the head of the Hamas media office, Essam Khazaee, was killed in the camp under unknown circumstances. Khazaee is the second official in the movement to be announced dead within a few days in the ongoing Syrian conflict despite, the movement having announced that all of its officials had left Syria. The same sources pointed out that human rights activist Iyad Shihabi was kidnapped in the area controlled by the gunmen. Shihabi is a member of the Civil National Palestinian Authority, which is responsible for relief and negotiations activities in the camp.

Found in: cease-fire, yarmouk refugee camp, palestinian refugees

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