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Nothing is that exceptional in ISIS' control of Yarmouk

For many observers, ISIS’s siege of Yarmouk marked the beginning of a renewed thrust

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

News reports over the last week about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) control of the majority of the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, on the Damascus outskirts, have been received with awe by those anticipating a containment of the hardline group’s cluster expansion.

For the anti-ISIS observers, the taking over of the Yarmouk camp, home to more than 18,000 Palestinian refugees, has resurrected the radical group’s relatively long-held image as formidable, resourceful and not that easy to defeat.

All the shock was the result of the belief in ISIS proving otherwise. I mean the U.S.-led airstrikes against the group’s posts in Syria’s Raqqa and the Iraqi army ongoing military operations have been believed to reduce ISIS’s power and contain its expansion. But things fell apart following ISIS’s control of the Yarmouk camp.

The “perplexed and abandoned” Palestinians and Syrians in the camp have been suffering from starvation and disease for a long time

For many observers, ISIS’s siege of the Yarmouk Palestinian camp has marked the beginning of a renewed thrust this year of the ultra-hardline group’s operations in Syria. Such insights have raised concerns over the Palestinian refugee camps, scattered across Syria, Lebanon and also Jordan, becoming one day the base of ISIS recruitment, citing the conditions of unemployment and poverty in such facilities, especially among the “religious and desperate” youth.

Prime recruiting areas

Whereas there is much logic in such rationale, especially with incidents in the past proving the Palestinian refugee camps, especially in Lebanon, to be prime areas for recruiting Sunni militants, the thing that is difficult to comprehend, rationalize and accept is the warning given in analyses here and there on the Yarmouk camp takeover, prophesying military confrontation soon between ISIS and the Syrian regime with Syria’s most powerful insurgent group nowadays securing a presence only a few kilometers from President Bashar al-Assad’s seat of power.

It’s really needless to explain why such scenario is still far-reaching and may not happen at all simply because it never occurred in the past. I mean all through the Syrian war there, there has been no serious military confrontation between the Syrian regime and ISIS - not at least for one time.

ISIS’s main objective has been centered around gaining as much land as it can to expand its self-acclaimed caliphate while the Syrian regime was happy to see the group fighting its real “enemy” the Free Syrian Army (FSA). ISIS has been taking Raqqa as its stronghold, why has it never been a target for the Syrian regime’s airstrikes and barrel bombs?

However, ISIS’s takeover of the Yarmouk camp is not a breakthrough - at least from a military perspective. First of all, the camp has been free of the presence of the FSA and the Syrian regime, as well over the past two years and maybe more. Both sides have abandoned their posts in the refugee facility because their focus has been placed on other regions, including strategic Aleppo, Ghouta and southern Syria on the border with Jordan.

For the FSA and the Syrian regime, maintaining a long presence in the Yarmouk refugee camp would produce some kind of sensitivity that the two warring parties have managed to avoid, needless to say why. However, at the time the FSA was there at the Yarmouk refugee camp, the Damascus neighborhood has been the target of Syria’s army siege and bombing.

Resistance camp

In fact, the Yarmouk refugee camp has been a problematic element in the Syrian crisis. It can be said that the 18,000 Palestinian inhabitants of the facility have distanced themselves from the war, including those who are highly politicized as either belonging to Fateh, Hamas, the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front and even to Ahmed Jibril's, Popular Front.

As a consensus among all Palestinians - those in the occupied Palestinian territory and in the diaspora - the war in Syria has proved to be anything but in service of their cause. Plus, the Israeli’s frequent attacks against the Syrian posts in Syria with no retaliation whatsoever from the Assad regime all ignited feelings of dismay inside the Palestinian community in the Yarmouk camp and elsewhere in the world towards the Assad regime, both the father and the son, who long presented themselves as pan-Arab nationalist always on the side of the Palestinian resistance. For the Palestinians, the so-called ‘resistance camp’ has proved to be a big lie.

With Palestine always absent in ISIS’s discourse and with the majority of the Palestinians in the Yarmouk camp either leftists, pan-Arab nationalists, secularists and ‘politicized’ Islamists, the possibility of the radical group turning the refugee facility into a recruitment area is almost zero.

The “perplexed and abandoned” Palestinians and Syrians in the camp have been suffering from starvation and disease for a long time, to the point their possible enrollment into ISIS or any party would be a form of luxury at the time their major concern is to secure a leaf bread or medicine.

The fear - and the only fear - is that ISIS’s presence in the Yarmouk refugee camp would add more complications to the complicated humanitarian situation there. The problem in the camp will remain humanitarian and never political or military despite ISIS’s presence there.
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Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via raed_omari1977@yahoo.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.