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Islamic State group infiltrates Palestinian camp in Damascus; Jordan closes border with Syria

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DAMASCUS, Syria — Islamic State militants infiltrated a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus on Wednesday, marking the deepest foray yet by the extremist group into the capital, seat of President Bashar Assad's power, Syrian opposition activists and Palestinian officials said.

Jordan, meanwhile, closed its only functioning border crossing with Syria, following heavy clashes on the Syrian side between rebels and government forces.

Islamic State fighters, who control large swaths of territory in northern Syria, entered the Yarmouk camp from the nearby Hajar Aswad neighborhood in southern Damascus and were clashing with a Palestinian group inside the camp. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the IS group took control of large parts of the camp.

If they gain full control of the camp, they can potentially threaten the heart of the capital.

Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus, has been under government siege for nearly two years. U.N. aid workers have been sending food parcels into the camp, where thousands of civilians remain trapped and in desperate need of food and medicine.

The camp had witnessed fighting in the past between government forces and militants who control much of the camp.

The Observatory reported heavy clashes in the camp between IS fighters and members of the Palestinian faction called Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.

PHOTO: FILE - This picture taken on Thursday, April. 24, 2014 and provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), U.N relief workers with blue helmets and vests stand next of residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, right, who stand in line to receive aid food distributed by UNRWA, on the southern edge of the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria. On wednesday, April. 1, 2015 Islamic State militants infiltrated the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the Syrian capital marking the deepest foray yet by the extremist group into Damascus, seat of President Bashar Assad’s power, Syrian opposition activists and Palestinian officials said. (AP Photo/UNRWA, File )
FILE - This picture taken on Thursday, April. 24, 2014 and provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), U.N relief workers with blue helmets and vests stand next of residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, right, who stand in line to receive aid food distributed by UNRWA, on the southern edge of the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria. On wednesday, April. 1, 2015 Islamic State militants infiltrated the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the Syrian capital marking the deepest foray yet by the extremist group into Damascus, seat of President Bashar Assad’s power, Syrian opposition activists and Palestinian officials said. (AP Photo/UNRWA, File )

Anwar Raja, the spokesman for the pro-Assad Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, said that IS fighter 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 came in coordination between IS and their rivals in the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's branch in Syria.

"The Nusra Front opened the road for them in order to infiltrate the camp and several hours ago they entered Yarmouk," Raja said by telephone. It was not immediately clear why Nusra would facilitate the entry of IS into the camp.

A Syrian foreign ministry statement on Wednesday said it holds Jordanian authorities responsible for "obstructing the movement of trucks and passengers and any ensuing economic or social repercussions."

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani told The Associated Press that the Nasib crossing was temporarily closed late Tuesday because of clashes nearby.

"It is important for us to keep the safety for the passengers and those who are trying to cross between the two countries," he said. "So we decided to close the border temporarily, until things calm down. Then we will open it again."

A spokesman for rebels in southern Syria, Issam al-Rayess, confirmed that rebel fighters were trying to take control of the border crossing from Syrian authorities.

The Nasib crossing is the only functioning crossing between Jordan and Syria and is considered a crucial gateway for Syria's government and for Syrian, Lebanese and Jordanian traders and merchants.


Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut and Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

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