Syria Rebels Advance in Battle for Palestinian Campإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Syrian rebels made advances Tuesday in a fierce battle for control of a Palestinian camp in Damascus that forced refugees to flee after an army ultimatum for them to leave, residents and a watchdog said.
Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad meanwhile carried out air strikes on the Eastern Ghuta region stretching along the east of the capital as well as its southern outskirts, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Clashes had rocked the Yarmuk camp overnight as the insurgents backed by some Palestinian fighters launched an offensive to push out the pro-regime Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).
The renewed clashes came two days after warplanes bombed the camp for the first time since the start of Syria's more than 21-month conflict, killing eight civilians.
The raid came hours after the rebel Free Syrian Army made significant advances in Yarmuk, a stronghold of militant groups closely allied with the Assad regime.
One resident reported seeing huge numbers of FSA fighters from neighboring districts inside the camp, while the army was nowhere in sight.
The mosques of the camp broadcast an army ultimatum giving the 150,000 residents until midday (10:00 GMT) to leave their homes, he told Agence France Presse over the phone.
"Some have decided to comply, but others chose to stay," the resident said, adding that fighting had come to a standstill in the morning.
An activist calling himself Abu al-Sukan said that while the army and the PFLP-GC militia had retreated to the adjacent Palestine refugee camp, the rebel fighters were braced for more clashes.
"We cannot say anyone has gained control yet, because the regime army is still in the first camp on Palestine Street at (neighboring) Tadamun district. There are clashes and at any moment the army could advance," he told AFP overnight.
"As for the FSA, they have a lot of men and strategically they are comfortable because they have finally entered the southern area and they can easily move around and bring in reinforcements," said Sukan, who was still in the camp with his wife and young children.
Palestinians in Syria, who are mainly Sunni Muslims, are divided over the uprising against the rule of President Assad, who is from the Alawite offshoot of Shiite Islam.
According to Abu al-Sukan, a group of Palestinian militants had defected to the rebel side.
"Not all camp militants are part of the Command (PFLP-GC). There are different popular defense committees and a group of them have defected to the Free Army," he said.
"There are definitely Palestinians fighting with the rebels. For the past three days we have seen the bodies of Palestinian fighters killed in battle with the opposition in Damascus province," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
According to Abu al-Sukan, as many as 35 percent of the people have fled for fear of more fighting and air strikes, while in the camp itself, conditions have gravely deteriorated.
"There is a huge humanitarian crisis in the camp. There are no hospitals, no firefighters and the roads are not safe," he said.