Iraq News
Terrorism

ISIS, Tahrir al-Sham clash inside Yarmouk camp

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' elements take part in ongoing battles inside the Yarmouk refugee camp in south Damascus. [Photo courtesy of Bahaa al-Sahli]

There has been a wave of internal displacement inside the Yarmouk refugee camp in south Damascus in the wake of fierce fighting between the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and Tahrir al-Sham, activists told Diyaruna.

The battles between the two rival extremist groups culminated in ISIS capturing many of the areas previously controlled by Tahrir al-Sham and expanding its area of control inside the camp, they said.

Fighting is still ongoing inside the Palestinian refugee camp between ISIS and Tahrir al-Sham, Yarmouk resident and activist Bahaa al-Sahli told Diyaruna.

"ISIS was able to seize total control of a number of areas that had been under the control of Tahrir al-Sham, particularly Haifa Street, the Palestinian Hospital and the Mashrouh area," he said.

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'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' elements battle rival Tahrir al-Sham inside the Yarmouk refugee camp in south Damascus. [Photo courtesy of Bahaa al-Sahli]

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'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' elements sprawl across a street in the al-Hajar al-Aswad area of ​​the Yarmouk refugee camp. [Photo courtesy of Bahaa al-Sahli]

At dawn on Monday (February 19th), ISIS elements entered al-Rija district, one of Tahrir al-Sham’s last strongholds at the centre of the camp, al-Sahli said.

In the ensuing fighting, more than 50 extremists from both sides were killed or wounded, he said.

ISIS boosts ranks with criminals

Though ISIS had seen a decline in the number of fighters in its ranks, it has made a recovery by recruiting a large number of criminals, al-Sahli said.

"These men -- thieves and murderers -- pledged allegiance to the group because it provides them with the protection they seek," he said, noting that in turn, their recruitment "has tipped the balance of power to ISIS once again" in the camp.

As the rival groups jockeyed for power, the clashes triggered a wave of internal displacement, with civilians fleeing for their lives from the areas where battles were being fought, due to the intensity of the fighting.

"ISIS elements searched all the houses on Haifa Street and looted the contents of many on the pretext that they had been occupied by Tahrir al-Sham elements or supporters," al-Sahli said.

There is serious concern that ISIS elements could attempt to expand further, he added, particularly in the towns of Beit Saham, Yalda and Babila to the west of the camp -- an area adjacent to the area already under ISIS control.

This area is already overflowing with internally displaced persons (IDPs), he said, and could become overly congested with the arrival of more civilians fleeing dangerous parts of Yarmouk.

Meanwhile, there are heightened fears inside the camp that there will be a large number of civilian casualties if the fighting between the two sides continues.

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