In Syria, Yarmuk residents plan return to war-torn Palestinian camp

In Syria, Yarmuk residents plan return to war-torn Palestinian camp
More than 400 families have returned in the last few months because they cannot afford to rent homes elsewhere after years of displacement. (AFP)
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Updated 28 November 2020

In Syria, Yarmuk residents plan return to war-torn Palestinian camp

In Syria, Yarmuk residents plan return to war-torn Palestinian camp
  • Hundreds of former residents have already requested permission to go back to the settlement
  • It was previously home to 160,000 Palestinian refugees and some Syrian families before the conflict broke out in 2011

YARMUK: When Syrian authorities said they would allow returns to the war-ravaged Yarmuk camp for Palestinian refugees in southern Damascus, Issa Al-Loubani rushed to sign up and quickly started repairing his home.
Hundreds of former residents have already requested permission to go back to the settlement, home to 160,000 Palestinian refugees and some Syrian families before the conflict broke out in 2011.
More than 400 families have returned in the last few months because they cannot afford to rent homes elsewhere after years of displacement, the United Nations said in early November.
Loubani, who first left in 2012, is determined to join their ranks even if the windows of his wrecked apartment are still covered with plastic sheeting.
“Our flat needs major work, but it’s better than paying rent,” said Loubani, who has been living in a Damascus apartment with his wife and daughter.
“We still need electricity, running water, and to clear rubble from the streets” before moving back in, the 48-year-old Palestinian refugee told AFP from Yarmuk.
Syrian government and allied forces retook the camp in 2018 from the Daesh group.
But two years on, reconstruction has been slow and the scars of war remain visible.
The walls of Loubani’s building are pockmarked with bullet holes.
Neighbouring blocks have had their facades blown off or seen their balconies cave.
Some structures have collapsed entirely following years of bombardment and heavy fighting.
Loubani’s wife, Ilham, finds an old photo from their wedding in the rubble-strewn alley.
“That’s Umm Walid,” she says, pointing to one of the guests in the picture.
Founded in 1957 with tents for Palestinians who fled or were ousted from their homes with the establishment of Israel, Yarmuk grew into a bustling neighborhood.
In 2012, around 140,000 residents fled as clashes raged.
Those who stayed faced severe shortages of food and medicine under a withering years-long government siege.
IS entered the area in 2015, bringing further suffering to remaining residents until jihadists were forced out three years later.
This month, the Damascus municipality said residents could register to return to Yarmuk if their homes were structurally sound.
Some 600 families have already signed up, said Mahmoud Al-Khaled, a Palestinian who heads a committee that clears rubble in the camp.
But the civil engineer who grew up in Yarmuk said less than half of the buildings were currently safe for reoccupation.
The 430 families that have already returned despite difficult living conditions rely heavily on the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
Around 75 percent of UNRWA’s 23 premises in Yarmuk, including 16 schools, need to be completely rebuilt, and all three of its health centers have been destroyed.
To compensate, the organization sends a mobile health clinic to the camp once a week and provides buses to transport children to schools in Damascus.
A month ago, Syrian Shehab Al-Din Blidi returned to his home — one of the few apartments in Yarmuk largely spared by the fighting.
Its cosy living room with bright paint and upholstered armchairs stands in stark contrast with the wasteland outside.
“If we had waited for electricity, water and sewage to return, we would have perhaps” had to wait for a year before coming back, Blidi said.
With little outside help, he said it was up to residents to fend for themselves.
“Reconstruction requires efforts from several countries,” Blidi said.
“In the meantime, we have to make do.”
The 60-year-old has managed to secure some electricity for his flat through a long cable connected to a power source beyond the camp.
With no running water, he buys large bottles from outside Yarmuk and stores them at home.
But for camp residents displaced to Idlib — the last major opposition bastion, in northwestern Syria — returning is nearly impossible.
“No one in the (opposition-held) north can register to return or even reach Yarmuk,” said Ahmad Khormandi, who left the camp when IS entered in 2015.
He and his family now live in a displacement camp in Idlib province near the border with Turkey.
The 43-year-old Palestinian told an AFP correspondent in northwestern Syria that he fears arrest if he returns to Yarmuk.
But even if he were allowed back, he said, returning to live in his home would be impossible.
“I don’t have the means to fix my house,” he said.


UAE, Cyprus FMs discuss Mediterranean tensions and strategic partnerships

UAE, Cyprus FMs discuss Mediterranean tensions and strategic partnerships
Updated 19 January 2021

UAE, Cyprus FMs discuss Mediterranean tensions and strategic partnerships

UAE, Cyprus FMs discuss Mediterranean tensions and strategic partnerships
  • The two ministers also discussed the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Both sides discussed ways of strengthening ties in multiple sectors, including in parliamentary areasboth sides discussed ways of strengthening ties in multiple sectors, including in parliamentary areas

DUBAI: The UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs discussed the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and ways of ensuring security and stability in the region with his Cypriot counterpart on Monday,.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan reviewed the prospects of advancing relations with Cyprus in a meeting in Abu Dhabi with Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, UAE state news agency WAM reported.
The two ministers also discussed the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of enhancing international cooperation to ensure fair and equitable access to the vaccine for every country in the world.
Christodoulides praised the UAE’s significant overall efforts to counter the coronavirus pandemic and the efficiency of its adopted measures in mitigating the economic and social effects of the crisis.
During his visit to the UAE, the Cypriot minister also met with the Speaker of the Federal National Council (FNC), Saqr Ghobash, accompanied with the Ambassador of Cyprus to the UAE, Yannis Michaelides.
During the meeting, both sides discussed ways of strengthening ties in multiple sectors, including in parliamentary areas.
Ghobash said that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on their parliamentary cooperation is required, in addition to reinforcing the role of joint parliamentary friendship committees.
A parliamentary friendship committee between the two countries will hold a meeting in the first quarter of 2021, Ghobash said, and stressed the importance of improving their coordination during global parliamentary events.
Christodoulides said that the UAE was a leading regional and international stature, noting that it is a strategic partner of his country.
He also conveyed the invitation of the President of the House of Representatives of Cyprus to Ghobash to visit Cyprus as head of a parliamentary delegation, to discuss ways of reinforcing their parliamentary ties.