For more than 50 years, Yarmouk refugee camp was used as a showpiece of Syrian support for the Palestinian cause.
Now, after three years of war and siege, jihadists of the Islamic State (Isis) stalk its ruins, the regime bombs the buildings that still stand and the few remaining residents must choose between abject misery if they stay and likely death if they flee.
More than anywhere else in Syria, the fight for Yarmouk – especially since Isis stormed the camp on 9 April – has captured the shifting allegiances and, at times, cynical complexities that now define the myriad battlefields across the ruined country.Most of the 200,000 or so Palestinians who lived in Yarmouk until late 2012 are now second-time refugees, either elsewhere in Syria, across the border in Lebanon or in Jordan.
In late December 2012, Yarmouk – just four miles from central Damascus – became a battlefield between pro- and anti-government forces before a merciless siege began.
Activists, diplomats and former camp residents contacted by the Guardian said recent events may end up proving decisive in the fight for central Damascus, only six miles north of the camp, which is in effect a suburb of the city.
With the shock of the jihadist incursion subsiding, the narrative of the regime siege is starting to change. Syrian officials have offered to rescue civilians, to whom they had denied safe refuge for more than two years. The jihadists are also attempting to claim a relative moral high ground by insisting that only they can break the blockade, after the failure of the armed opposition and the Palestinian leaders to do so.
“They are now casting themselves as saviours of the Palestinians after besieging them for all that time,” said a western diplomat in Beirut of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. “They want to be seen as liberators, not persecutors, and this cause has worked very well for them in the past.”
Activists said that Isis, although present in the Hajar al-Aswad neighbourhood south of Yarmouk for at least the past six months, was not seen as a threat to the militant groups opposing the regime from within its borders, or to its estimated 16,000 residents.
The neighbouring Yalda area had remained relatively calm for the past year as a result of a locally negotiated ceasefire between regime and opposition forces, as had the surrounding area, despite Isis’s attempts to slowly gain a foothold.
Most of the estimated 600 Isis fighters are local men who were previously aligned to other opposition groups, camp insiders say. Some of the militants had previously been exiled, and most of those who returned were smuggled in by the al-Qaida-aligned Jabhat al-Nusra, which remains a staunch foe of Isis in northern Syria.
“They mostly had a bad reputation and were known for thievery,” one activist said of the jihadists now in control of Yarmouk. In northern and eastern Syria, foreign jihadists led predominantly by veterans of the Iraqi civil war are immersed in more of an ideological fight.
“[Isis] is coming back today to take revenge from the civilians who evicted them, but people were unable to stand up to them because of their savagery and the fact they were well armed with medium and light weapons,” said the activist who fled to the camp’s outskirts.
Over the past five days, Syrian helicopters have dropped up to 12 barrel bombs on the camp, while reinforcing its borders to the west. Now that Isis controls the area, which is roughly five miles square, its fighters appear to be as hemmed in as the remaining civilians.
A young Syrian boy has revealed how he saw depraved Islamic State militants playing football with a severed head inside the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp.
Amjad Yaaqub, 16, said he stumbled on the barbaric scene shortly after the terrorists beat him unconscious when they burst into his family home at the camp in the Syrian capital Damascus.
The schoolboy said the ISIS fighters were looking for his brother, who is a member of the Palestinian rebel group who ran and defended the camp for several years before ISIS carried out a bloody assault that has left more than 200 people dead in just seven days.
ISIS came to my home looking for my brother who’s in the Palestinian Popular Committees. They beat me until I passed out and left me for dead,’ he added, referring to the savage militants
His story was revealed as refugees in Yarmouk spoke of the daily atrocities they have witnessed since ISIS seized control of 90 per cent of the camp, including innocent children being slaughtered in front of their anguished parents.
After enduring two years of famine and fighting, Ibrahim Abdel Fatah said he saw heads cut off by ISIS in the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk. That was it. He fled and hasn’t looked back.
Unshaven, pale and gaunt, he has found refuge with his wife and seven children at the Zeinab al-Haliyeh school in Tadamun, a southeastern district of the Syrian capital held by the army.
‘I saw severed heads. They killed children in front of their parents. We were terrorised,’ he said.
‘We had heard of their cruelty from the television, but when we saw it ourselves… I can tell you, their reputation is well-deserved,’ the 55-year-old said.
The school is currently home to 98 displaced people, among them 40 children, who have been put up in three classrooms.
The usual occupants, schoolchildren, have been evacuated temporarily from rooms where mattresses and bedding now blanket the floor.
‘I left my house which was the only thing I had. My family lived on rations supplied by UNRWA,’ the United Nations agency that looks after Palestinian refugees, the former caretaker said.
“They’ve walked into a trap from which there is no escape,” the diplomat said.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has maintained a low profile throughout the siege, which has repeatedly been described by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) as an atrocity. Throughout the past two years, the UN body has only been able to secure piecemeal access to starving residents, some of whom have died from hunger and thirst.
“The violence that began in Yarmouk on 9 April is not just continuing, it has intensified,” said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. “Yarmouk is at the lower reaches of hell. It must not be allowed to descend further.”
“The situation is different now,” said Fathi Aboul Ardat, the PLO official in Lebanon, describing the arrival of Isis inside Yarmouk as a dangerous and unprecedented step.
When asked whether the PLO could deal with the regime, which has imposed a two-year siege on Yarmouk, he replied: “We deal with a state.”
A Palestinian academic from Yarmouk who visited the camp late last year said the PLO’s overtures to the regime are part of an internal competition between Fatah, which dominates the PLO, and Hamas, which fell out with Assad after it declared its support for the original uprising.
“Allof the Palestinian organisations have been unable to rescue the Palestinians,” he said. “We need salvation. We are in the 21st century and Palestinians are dying of hunger.
“It’s not thatthey are selling out the Palestinians. They are incapacitated. The Palestinian organisations are like the former Ottoman Empire; they are the sick man.”
‘The Jihadi’s arrival meant destruction and massacre. Their behaviour’s not human and their religion is not ours,’ added the thin woman with sunken eyes.
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“And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Matthew 24:12(KJV).
“But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” 2 Timothy 3:13 (KJV).
And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved – Matthew 10:22 (KJV).
“Yeah, the time cometh , that whosever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” John 16:2 (KJV).
The Burden of Damascus
In the last days, Jesus warned us of specific events that will take place between Israel and Syria and the surrounding cities. Part of Syria are already the scene of a war-torn destruction, and remains one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in Syria’s history. Unfortunately, there is more to come. As we read Isaiah 17, it tells us Damascus will play a major role in prophecy. The fact that Damascus is standing as a super city today, tells us that Isaiah 17 is in fact a partially unfilled prophecy.
The event that is still waiting to manifest is the complete annihilation of Damascus, “a ruinous heap” that makes Damascus “uninhabitable” and a city that will cease to exist:
The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap.The cities of Aroer [Biblical Jordan], are forsaken: they shall be for flocks, which shall lie down, and none shall make them afraid.The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Syria: they shall be as the glory of the children of Israel, saith the LORD of hosts. And in that day it shall come to pass, that the glory of Jacob shall be made thin, and the fatness of his flesh shall wax lean – Isaiah 17:1-4 (KJV).
The destruction of Damascus will happen in one day:
And behold at evening tide trouble; and before the morning he is not. This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us – Isaiah 17:14 (KJV).
Historically, Damascus has met destruction many times and has been rebuilt several times over, but it has never ceased from being a city, again confirming that this prophecy is yet to unfold, and may be sooner than we think.
According to these verses, the cities of Aroer [Jordan], which are located on the northern bank of the Arnon River just east of the Dead Sea,(which is drying up along with Euphrates, another prophecy being fulfilled) will also be barren, the cities in northern Israel (Golan Heights, etc) will also be destroyed, and the few who remain in Aram [present-day central Syria], a few miles southeast of Damascus, will meet the same destruction and end as those of these northern Israeli cities.
We also see in Psalm 83, where Israel will be invaded by the same armies from Jordan, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza.
The prophecy of Isaiah 17 (known as the Burden of Damascus) closely mirrors with the passages of Psalm 83. In fact, Isaiah 17 triggers the confederacy mentioned in Psalm 83, and the same confederacy who comes against Damascus, will also be the same to wage war against Israel. The recent treaty signed by the Arab League, bringing 22 Arab states together in a ‘unified army’ (you can read about that here) also fulfilled a portion of Psalm 83, and was in fact created to fight against the ISLAMIC STATE MILITANTS! Also, 10 of the 22 Arab states in the unified army, are indeed the “crafty counsel” described in Psalm 83.
The political scene today is at the perfect boiling point of Fulfilling Isaiah 17. Lets look at what we have so far:
- We have both ISIS and al-Qaeda who are now controlling various cities circling Damascus. Both groups fighting with and against each other to gain total control over the Syrian region, both hell-bent on overthrowing President Assad and his regime. Both groups are pledged to sharia law.
- On April 1, 2015, ISIS made another strategic advance, seizing the refugee camp in Yarmouk, less than 20 minutes from the capital city Damascus – the Isaiah 17 prophecy Damascus!
- As of today, the Islamists have seized the border of Jordan, also mentioned in Isaiah 17- and what is historical about this, is it is the first time the Jordan government has lost to the Islamic Militants.
- Another article confirms control and reports: Al-Qaida in Syria signals sharia law for captured city
- Aside from the conflict in Syria, we have the Palestinians and ISIS who both want control over Golan Heights (Golan Heights borders Syria)
- Palestinians have long waited for the a sovereign state and are on the verge, if not arrived at a point of “boiling over” with anger towards Israel for denial of what they claim to be their right to the land (biblically, this is not true, but we will not discuss this here).
- Hamas and Iran both want to destroy Israel, and have made claims to arm West Bank – they remain a threat to Israel today. A threat as defined in the scope of starting a war, because it should be known, that the Lord wins the Psalm 83 war, too.
- On April 1, 2015 ICC ‘welcomes State of Palestine’ as 123rd member at ceremony. What is important to note about this is that, one, you must be a “state” to be recognized as a member of ICC, as we can see from the headline, the ICC called Palestinians a state, AND TWO, ICC IS inferring that they have gone above the head of Israel, and will force a TWO STATE recognition. This too could bring about a war, as Ezekiel’s prophecy tells us that once Israel regained the Ancient Heights, it would never be taken away from Israel. We will wait to see how this plays out politically.
- Arab nations, disgusted with the lack of control over ISIS, and USA, have formed an independent “Unified Army” represented by 22 Arab states. All of these nations are enemies of Israel.
- We recently heard Russia’s President Putin weigh in on the two-state solution, in which he sides with Palestinians.We must consider if Putin would have any involvement in this war.
- Temple Mount also remains a political struggle between Arabs and Israeli government, both vying for its complete control. While it is legally owned by Israel, it is currently controlled by the Islamic Waqf. It is not just the dispute of building the Third Temple that stands for increased tensions, because as you may already know, the Israeli government has long kept the peace there. But it is a historical and holy site for the Muslims, and they believe it belongs to them. The Militants will without a doubt, seek to gain control of the temple mount if they are given an opportunity. Of course, we know that Israel will be forced to war if this happens.
As you can see, there are so many items boiling in the pot, that indeed will converge to a breaking point. We must watch to see if these events will in fact trigger Isaiah 17, and of course the Psalm 83 war.
It is also interesting to note, that the Islamic Militants, have already begun destroying “idols” in Syria. Associated Press reports the following:
Images posted by fighters claiming to be inside the city suggested government forces had been routed. They showed fighters vandalising statues of Assad’s father, former president Hafez al-Assad, and standing on government buildings trying to tear down huge posters of the president himself. On its Twitter account, Nusra said its fighters had taken control of half the city, posting pictures of the Clock Tower and other landmarks now under its control.
And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves, or the images Isaiah 17:8 (KJV).
Isaiah 17:12 are the same nations that sign a treaty in Psalms 83:5-8:
Woe to the multitude of many people, which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters!- Isaiah 17:12 (KJV).
The Modern Day Regions and Nations
Other parallels to prophecy:
Therefore as I live, saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah, even the breeding of nettles, and saltpits, and a perpetual desolation: the residue of my people shall spoil them, and the remnant of my people shall possess them.- Zephaniah 2:9 (KVJ).
and then look at the prophecy “Like the days of Lot”:: “Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed”- Luke 17:28-30 (KJV).
As a side note, the Apostle Paul (Saul) was on the road to Damascus when he first encountered Jesus, around noon. This entire event changed Paul’s life, and history. If you want to read more, see Acts 9:1-9.
- After this encounter with Jesus, God changed Saul’s name to Paul. We see throughout the bible where names are changed once the person is “saved.” We too will have our names changed as Revelation 2:17 tells us.