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ISIS Militants Close In On Area Near Syrian Capital


And to Syria now, the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, is edging towards taking over territory just outside the capital, Damascus. That area called Yarmouk was once a Palestinian refugee camp. It grew into a busy working-class neighborhood with schools and offices. But for the past four years, the area has been a battleground between Syrian government troops and rebels. NPR's Alice Fordham reports that if ISIS takes Yarmouk, it will be the closest they have come to holding turf in the capital.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: For six days now, ISIS fighters have been battling a patchwork of armed factions for control of the area. One of their unofficial news agencies aired footage of the gunfire we're hearing, which included video of ISIS fighters calling for people to be patient, saying it would all be over soon.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: Yarmouk residents sending updates via satellite Internet suggest multiple groups was shifting alliances of fighting. Some Palestinian militias are pushing back against ISIS, while there are reports Syria's al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra is helping them. Nusra denies this. Salim Salama, a former resident of Yarmouk and head of The Palestinian League of Human Rights, says it's just not possible to tell us who holds sway right now because the fighting is so heavy. What he does know is that civilians are suffering.

SALIM SALAMA: People has no food since four days. They have no drinking water since four days as well. People are starving in their houses. People are thirsty in their houses.

FORDHAM: Speaking by Skype from Sweden, he says the 18,000 civilians left in the camp were already weak after the two-year siege. He's worked with Amnesty International to document 200 deaths from lack of food during the siege. The U.N. arm that works in the camp hasn't been able to distribute aid due to the violence. Alice Fordham, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.
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