Islamic State seized large parts of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus, bringing the extremist group closer to the capital than ever before.
The Islamist fighters launched an offensive on the camp from the nearby neighborhood of Hajar al-Aswad with the help of sleeper cells inside Yarmouk, Rami Abderrahman, head of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, said by telephone.
The Palestinian camp, about 6 kilometers (4 miles) from central Damascus, is home to as many as 13,000 people and has been under siege by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the past two years. The observatory said there were some clashes between Islamic State fighters and an armed group in the camp.
The camp has been largely under the control of the al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, said Salah al-Youssef, a member of politburo of the Palestinian Liberation Front. He said he heard from contacts there that the Islamic State militants generally met little resistance.
“Residents told us that they woke up this morning and saw the militants controlling a large part of the camp,” said Youssef, who is based in a Lebanese camp for Palestinians. The takeover of the camp may enable Islamic State to target Damascus neighborhoods including the airport, he said.
“Everyone tries to control the Yarmouk camp given its strategic geographic location,” Youssef said.