ISIL pushes into Palestinian refugee camp in Syria

Fighters in Yarmouk, a district in Damascus besieged by Syrian forces for more than a year, are now battling ISIL

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized sections of a Palestinian refugee camp in the Yarmouk district of Damascus in Syria, according to opposition activists and Palestinian officials.

“Fighters from ISIL launched an assault this morning on Yarmouk, and they took over the majority of the camp,” Anwar Abdel Hadi, director of political affairs for the Palestine Liberation Organization in Damascus, told Agence France-Presse.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a U.K.-based monitoring group, said ISIL was in control of a “large part” of the camp after fighting with Palestinian groups also opposed to Assad's regime.

SOHR reported heavy clashes in the camp between ISIL fighters and members of a Palestinian faction called Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.

ISIL, which has already captured large parts of Syria and Iraq, has fought not only against the Assad regime but also other rebel groups as it seeks to expand the territory under its control.

Yarmouk was once home to 160,000 Palestinian refugees and Syrians but has been caught up in the country's fighting and besieged by regime forces for more than a year. 

About 18,000 residents remain in the camp after many fled the fighting.

Anwar Raja, the spokesman for the pro-Assad Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, said that ISIL fighters entered the camp from the nearby neighborhood of Hajar Aswad, where they have been based for months. He added that Wednesday's push into the camp was carried out in coordination with the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's branch in Syria and ordinarily an ISIL rival.

“The Nusra Front opened the road for them in order to infiltrate the camp and several hours ago they entered Yarmouk,” Raja told The Associated Press by telephone.

It was not immediately clear why the Nusra Front would facilitate the entry of ISIL into the camp.

In a separate development on Wednesday, Jordan closed its main border crossing with Syria amid fierce clashes between rebels and Syrian government forces for control of the post.

“The Jaber border post has been temporarily closed to travelers and goods,”Jordanian Interior Minister Hussein Majali told AFP.

The closure, he said, was a “preventative measure to safeguard the lives and security of travelers due to the fighting underway on the other side of the border.”

SOHR said that the rebels had attacked the post and were facing air raids and rocket fire from regime forces.

The post is the last remaining border crossing with Jordan still in the hands of Syria's government, as it battles rebels who launched an uprising against President Assad's regime in 2011.

Wire services 

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