PA fears for Palestinians caught in Syria violence

Some 300 Palestinians have been killed since beginning of uprising; half a million live in country, mostly in refugee camps.

A Palestinian refugee camp in Syria 370 (R) (photo credit: Khaled Al Hariri / Reuters)
A Palestinian refugee camp in Syria 370 (R)
(photo credit: Khaled Al Hariri / Reuters)
Palestinian Authority officials Thursday expressed concern over the safety of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in refugee camps in Syria.
They said that some 300 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the uprising in Syria in March 2011.
More than 500,000 Palestinians are believed to be living in Syria, mostly in a number of refugee camps.
The PA announced Thursday that it was in contact with the Syrian authorities and opposition to avoid involving Palestinians in the escalating violence.
The officials said that in recent weeks a number of Palestinians were kidnapped and killed by unidentified gunmen in various parts of Syria. Three Palestinians were killed in the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus earlier this week, they added.
In the worst incident, 16 members of the Palestine Liberation Army, which is backed by the Syrian authorities, were killed after gunmen stopped their bus and kidnapped them.
The bodies of the Palestinians, whose throats had been slashed, were later discovered in an open field in the suburbs of Damascus.
Palestinian sources believe the perpetrators belonged to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups.
Some Palestinian groups based in Syria have been accused of fighting alongside Bashar Assad’s forces against the rebellions.
Hamas, which refused to support Assad, has moved its headquarters out of Syria.
Other Palestinian groups that remained in Syria continue to side with Assad’s regime and have even prevented Palestinians from demonstrating against the regime.
In the last few days, the officials noted, thousands of Syrian civilians fleeing the violence in Damascus have found shelter in Yarmouk.
Members of the Free Syrian Army have also entered Yarmouk and other Palestinian refugees camps, the officials said.
“The flames are quickly approaching Yarmouk,” cautioned commentator Rashad Abu Shawar. “Someone is trying to drag the Palestinians into the fire.”
He said that dozens of armed Muslim fundamentalists entered the camp in the past few days, chanting slogans against Assad and in favor of an Islamic caliphate. The extremists apparently succeeded in recruiting Palestinian militiamen to their ranks.
Reports that dozens of Palestinians have joined the ranks of the Free Syrian Army and are now involved in the battles against Assad’s forces in Damascus have triggered fears in Ramallah over a possible reprisal by the Syrian authorities.
“Our main concern is that the Syrian army will now start attacking Palestinians under the pretext that they are fighting with the terrorists,” said a PA official who is closely monitoring the situation in Syria.
“We are deeply concerned that Palestinians would pay a heavy price in this civil war.”
According to the official, only one Palestinian armed group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, which is headed by Ahmed Jibril, has been supportive of the Assad regime.
Some members of the groups, the official told The Jerusalem Post, have been helping the Syrian security forces in their clampdown on the opposition.
“Ahmed Jibril is an enemy not only of the Syrian people, but also of Palestinians,” said a Fatah legislator in the West Bank. “The man has a lot of Palestinian blood on his hands.”
Political analyst Fayez Rashid said that although Palestinians have tried to stay neutral during the Arab Spring, they continue to pay a heavy price in the Arab countries.
Palestinians living in Iraq were punished after the US occupation because they were accused of helping Saddam Hussein, Rashid pointed out. “Palestinians were expelled from their homes and forced to run away toward the borders with Syria and Jordan, where they live in harsh conditions and no one is helping them.”
Rashid also pointed out that Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi had also expelled Palestinians from their homes and jobs when he was in power. But when the Libyan dictator fell, Palestinians were accused of having helped Gaddafi suppress the opposition and were once again targeted, he said.
Khaled Abdel Majeed, a senior representative of the pro-Assad Palestinian Struggle Front organization, said that there were increased signs that some parties are trying to drag the Palestinians into the Syrian quagmire. “We don’t interfere in the internal affairs of Syria,” he said. “But were are opposed to the international conspiracy targeting Syria.”
Thousands of Palestinians, meanwhile, have over the past few months fled toward Jordan, where the authorities have denied most of them entry and are holding them in makeshift camps along the border with Syria.