Qusai Zakarya writes: After Bashar al-Assad’s regime spent nearly two years massacring Palestinians in Yarmouk camp, after regime bombardments destroyed nearly 70 percent of the camp, after thousands were arrested and tortured to death, and after civilians were forced to resort to scavenging through trash and weeds to ward off starvation — after all this, the world is finally paying attention to the situation in this long-suffering southern Damascus neighborhood. And all they want to talk about is the Islamic State.
I think this is a disgrace. But since this is what the world wants to hear, I will tell them. You cannot understand the Islamic State’s assault on the camp or what it means unless you also consider how Bashar al-Assad, as a gift to the Palestinian people, turned a thriving neighborhood of hundreds of thousands of people into a desperate population of 18,000 waiting to die.
We cannot stop what happened in Yarmouk from repeating itself elsewhere unless we save the 600,000 besieged civilians whom Assad is starving to death.
Let me go back to the beginning, when the siege of Yarmouk began in late 2012. I was there at the time because, as a Syrian-Palestinian, I had many family members living in the camp. My brothers had pleaded with me for hours to join them on a trip to the camp, because they wanted me to move into my aunt’s house there. Yarmouk at the time seemed much safer than my nearby hometown of Moadamiya, a Damascus suburb southwest of the capital, where I was an opposition activist.
We arrived at the camp on the evening of Dec. 15, 2012, at a time when the Free Syrian Army and its Palestinian supporters were making rapid gains. As usual, Assad was responding by shelling innocent civilians at random. The shelling kept us up for much of the night, but eventually I drifted off to sleep. I woke up to the sound of a huge explosion close by.
It was the first attack on Yarmouk camp by a fighter jet. The regime’s target: Abdul-Qader Mosque, a place of worship that was packed with displaced people. Watching from my window, I saw scenes of panic and chaos, shrapnel and body parts lying everywhere. Tanks then moved in to surround the camp. When an announcement came ordering us to leave in three hours or not at all, we left. On our way out, we passed dozens of tanks and thousands of troops ready to march. The siege on Yarmouk had begun. [Continue reading…]