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As IS nears, fears of ultimate terror sprout in Damascus

For most in capital Damascus, the days, when they can tell themselves that the Islamic State (IS) group is akin to a mythical creature hopping about in northern Syria, are over.

Since Wednesday, the IS militants have launched an offensive against Syrian rebel fighters in a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, and have now controlled a large part of it.

The Yarmouk camp, an epicenter of bloody clashes between the rebel forces and the militant group, is home to about 18,000 refugees, including some 3,500 kids, according to the UN.

Less than one km from the battared camp, life in Midan, a local district, remains serene, at least for the moment. Schools are open, and so are shops and restaurants. Little has changed except that sounds of clashes are reverberating from not afar now and then.

In the streets, local residents, in twos and threes, are muttering things about turmoil in Yarmouk and potential threats IS could pose to nearby districts in Damascus.

Wearing big glasses, a head scarf and a trench coat, 70-year-old Um Talal stands at her doorstep waiting for her granddaughter to return home from school, something she had just started after knowing that the IS nears.

"I would be lying if said I wasn't afraid... but as you can see it is still alright here and I hope it remains so," She told Xinhua. She said she now does not allow her 11-year-old granddaughter to play in the street.

"Don't you hear the sound of mortars and shelling? I wouldn't risk her playing in the street now. It feels eerie," she added.

For almost two years, Yarmouk has been under siege and bombardment as Syria's civil war mounted. Before the IS' campaign, the camp has been under the control of Aknaf Beit al-Maqdes militants, a group of Palestinians siding with the revolt against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Still, the presence of these rebels next door did not alarm residents of the capital. But IS seems different to them.

The IS group has already beheaded seven people in the camp and killed many others. Their scary tactics and videos of massacres led Damascenes to feel a chill down their spines.

The Syrian government recently said that the Syrian army completely sealed off the camp since that area spiraled out of government control over two years ago.

The statement apparently aimed to allay the fears of capital residents, the vast majority of whom still back the Syrian government and prefer their current lives over that of the rebels'.

"I am personally not afraid for myself, but I fear for my kids... we have really become fed up with nerve-wracking news of clashes," said Fadi, a physician.

"Everything about war in our country is ugly... it's extremely difficult to lose people you love," he added.

Ali, a student, said he goes to school every day, but doesn't deny his nervousness about the proximity of IS.

"Everything is fine so far, but it's normal to fear the proximity of IS. I hope they stay away from us," he said.

As a result of the raging war in Yarmouk, as many as 2,000 residents out of 20,000 trapped inside left the camp over the past few days, and fled to surrounding areas.

The Jaramana camp for Palestinians, also in southern Damascus, hosted those who fled Yarmouk.

"I don't have memories of Palestine; I only have memories of Yarmouk. I wish someday to return to Palestine but now all I dream about is returning to Yarmouk," said Rula Hittini, a 50-year-old mother of six currently staying in Jaramana.

[Source: Xinhua, Damascus, 05Apr15]

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small logoThis document has been published on 07Apr15 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.