SYRIA

The Yarmouk activist hunted by IS group jihadists

Since the Islamic State organisation (IS) launched an offensive on the Yarmouk refugee camp in the suburbs of Damascus, activists have gone into hiding to try to escape the jihadists’ roundups. One of them told FRANCE 24's Observers that he faces certain death if he is caught.

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Screen grab from a video showing destroyed buildings and deserted streets in Yarmouk.

Since the Islamic State organisation (IS) launched an offensive on the Yarmouk refugee camp in the suburbs of Damascus, activists have gone into hiding to try to escape the jihadists’ roundups. One of them told FRANCE 24's Observers that he faces certain death if he is caught.

Since April 4, Yarmouk – a fully-fledged neighbourhood born out of a Palestinian refugee camp – has been under the control of IS jihadists and their allies from the al-Nusra Front, which is the Syrian branch of al Qaeda. Inside the camp, clashes continue between the jihadists and factions of “Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis”, a Palestinian movement closely linked to Hamas. Syrian regime forces have also been bombing the neighbourhood relentlessly.

The residents are trapped in the crossfire of these three forces locked in merciless combat. Local activists, who oppose both the regime and the IS group, are in the most danger. They are currently in hiding, living in fear of being captured by the jihadists or by soldiers loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Destruction in the Yarmouk neighbourhood.

“Our choice now is dying at the hands of the regime or the hands of IS”

Jihad is an activist in Yarmouk.

I am part of a group of activists who document human rights violations carried out against the residents of Yarmouk, which has been under siege by the regime for the past three years. Since the IS group launched their offensive, we haven’t been able to leave our homes. We know that they are looking for us.

Photo from inside Yarmouk, sent by our Observer.

The jihadist groups have been gathering intelligence for about two months with the help of Yarmouk residents that they have recruited. Here in Yarmouk, everyone knows each other. Some of my childhood friends are now working for the IS group or the al-Nusra Front. Using these inside sources, the jihadists have been able to identify both activists and fighters. It has become very dangerous for people like me who take the risk of denouncing the situation. They know my beliefs; they know that I’m opposed to what they do. I’m on their list.

Destruction in Yarmouk. Photo sent by our Observer.

Now that they are in the camp, the jihadists patrol the streets. They comb each building, searching apartments and arresting people.

 

“People go to collect water from wells in the midst of clashes”

Twenty of us are hidden together in an apartment and we have almost run out of supplies. It has always been difficult to get food and medical supplies into the camp, but since the offensive began, we’ve been cut off completely.

Photo sent by our Observer. 

We aren’t the only ones short of supplies; many residents have also run out of water. Looking out from my window, I’ve seen people go to collect water from wells in the midst of clashes and barrel bombs dropped by the regime. It’s an incredibly sad sight.

 

“They have already decapitated several Yarmouk residents”

I truly don’t know what will happen to us. We aren’t able to leave Yarmouk. If we go through the regime-controlled checkpoints north of the neighbourhood, we’ll surely be arrested and tortured. They keep files on all of our activities so we’d have no chance. We can’t go through the checkpoints to the south because they are controlled by the IS fighters. They’ve already decapitated several Yarmouk residents – two young soldiers who were fighting them and a civilian. They have succeeded at instilling terror here.

I fear that we now have the choice between death or death. We’ll die at the hands of the regime, or of the Islamic State group. Or we’ll die of hunger or thirst.

 

Photo sent by our Observer. 

Post written with journalist Dorothée Myriam Kellou (@Dorakellou).