A Palestinian refugee camp has been under siege for more than 1,660 days. Hundreds of the camp residents have been killed, while tens of thousands have been forced to flee from their homes.
Those who have remained in the camp — mostly the elderly, women and children — live in unspeakable sanitary conditions and drink polluted water.
More than 200 Palestinians from the camp, which has been under siege since 2103, have died as a result of lack of food or medicine. The conditions in the refugee camp, by any standard, are horrific.
Why have most of us not heard about the hair-raising “living” conditions that characterize this camp? Because it is not located in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.
The name of the camp is Yarmouk, and it is located about five miles from the Syrian capital of Damascus.
More than 100,000 Palestinians used to live in the 2.11 square-kilometer Yarmouk camp before the civil war erupted in Syria in 2011.
By the end of 2014, the number of the camp residents had plummeted to 13,000.
Since 2012, the camp has been the scene of intense fighting among various parties: the Syrian opposition forces, the Syrian Army and its allies in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), a Palestinian terror group headed by Ahmed Jibril, and Islamic State (ISIS).
In 2015, ISIS managed to take control of large parts of Yarmouk camp despite the siege imposed by the Syrian Army and the Palestinian terror group PFLP-GC.
The lives of the Palestinian residents of the camp have been turned into hell.
It is not as if before conditions inside the camp were good. There were times when the Syrian Army and the PFLP-GC used heavy artillery to bomb houses and schools, thereby killing scores of residents, including women and children.
The Syrian Army and its proxy Palestinian terror group surround the camp from all directions, preventing the entry of food and medicine. Within the confines of the camp, ISIS commits almost daily atrocities against the residents.
Last week, for example, ISIS terrorists dragged two Palestinian men to a public square and executed them in front of stunned residents. The two men were identified as Ramez Abdullah and Bashar Said. Abdullah was shot in the head, while Said had his throat slit in customary ISIS-style.
An ISIS “court” had found the two guilty of spying for the PFLP-GC and Aknaf Beit Al-Makdis (“Supporters of Jerusalem”), a Palestinian rebel group that has been fighting against ISIS inside Yarmouk camp.
Such public executions are far from uncommon on the streets of Yarmouk.
In February 2107, ISIS executed camp resident Mohammed Attiyeh. A month later, another four Palestinians were executed by the terror group. In July the same year, ISIS executed Palestinian teenager Mohammed Elayan after convicting him of helping wounded fighters belonging to an anti-ISIS group.
A few days ago, ISIS terrorists in the camp arrested a woman after she refused to submit to a body search at a checkpoint. Camp residents say they now fear for the life of the woman, who was not identified by name. Her fate is not likely to be better than the scores of camp residents whose whereabouts remain unknown after being taken into custody by ISIS.
As if this were not enough, sources inside the camp are reporting that ISIS terrorists have also been confiscating food from stores and homes.
In addition, ISIS continues to prevent patients from leaving the camp for medical treatment, according to the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria.
“The humanitarian crisis in Yarmouk camp has reached new heights,” the group said. “The lack of food and medicine has resulted in the outbreak of several diseases among the camp residents.”
The plight of Yarmouk camp is a microcosm of the tragedy that has befallen the Palestinians in Syria since the beginning of the civil war in that country.
Figures released by the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria show that 3645 Palestinians have been killed since 2011. The victims include 463 women. Another 1656 Palestinians are being held in various prisons belonging to the Syrian government. They include 105 women.
In Yarmouk camp, 204 Palestinians have died as result of lack of food and medicine. Yarmouk camp has been without running water for more than 1237 days. Another Palestinian camp, Dera’ah, has been without water supply for more than 1398 days.
Altogether, since the beginning of the civil war, more than 85,000 Palestinians have fled Syria to Europe. An additional 30,000 have found refuge in Lebanon, while 17,000 have chosen to settle in Jordan, 6,000 in Egypt and 8,000 in Turkey.
Another report revealed that 11 Palestinians were killed in Syria in January 2018. Ten were shot dead during fighting between warring parties, while one died as a result of torture in a Syrian government prison.
Why the need to keep reminding the world of the plight of the Palestinians in Syria? It is because the international community and pro-Palestinian groups around the world do not seem to care about the atrocities that are being committed against Palestinians in Syria or any Arab country because they were not committed by Israel.
Still, it is hard to understand the apathy of the Palestinian Authority leadership in Ramallah, whose representatives have more urgent matters on their minds.
While his people are being killed, starved, displaced and denied medical treatment in Syria, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appears to be more concerned about US President Donald Trump’s recent announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Picking a fight with the US administration has become a daily national sport for Abbas and his top officials in Ramallah. Hardly a day passes without another Palestinian Authority statement strongly denouncing Trump and his administration’s policies toward the Palestinians. But when it comes to the suffering of Palestinians in Syria, Ramallah is mute.
Palestinian leaders who hold regular meetings in Ramallah simply ignore the atrocities their people face in the Arab countries, especially Syria. Instead, the leaders devote most of their time to issuing condemnations of Israeli settlements and the Trump administration, as if Palestinians are not being killed by the thousands in an Arab country.
The 82-year-old Abbas, meanwhile, has made clear where his priorities stand. Instead of searching for ways to help his people in Syria and the Gaza Strip, where hospitals are facing a deathly shortage of fuel and medicine, Abbas has just spent $50 million to purchase a “presidential plane.”
The money Abbas spent on the new plane could have saved the lives of thousands of Palestinians in Syria and the Gaza Strip.
Abbas, however, could not care less. In his view, the needs of his people are the responsibility of the world.
He wants everyone but himself to continue funneling financial aid to the Palestinians. For him, delivering a speech before the EU Parliament or the UN General Assembly easily takes precedence over the Palestinians who are dying due to lack of medicine and food. With such leaders, the Palestinians do not need enemies.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.