Fatah leaders visit Syria, hold unity talks with rejectionist groups

Relations between Fatah and Syria improved after the Syrian authorities expelled Hamas leaders and closed down their offices in Damascus several years ago.

Jibril Rajoub takes part in a protest against Israel's plan to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, in Jericho June 27, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
Jibril Rajoub takes part in a protest against Israel's plan to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, in Jericho June 27, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
A senior delegation of officials from the Palestinian ruling Fatah faction met in Damascus on Tuesday with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and briefed him on the latest developments concerning the Palestinian issue, particularly efforts to achieve Palestinian unity and thwart Israeli and US “conspiracies” against the Palestinians.
The delegation, headed by Fatah Secretary-General Jibril Rajoub, arrived in Damascus on Monday and is scheduled to also hold discussions with representatives of five Palestinian groups that are strongly opposed to any peace process with Israel. In addition to Rajoub, the delegation consists of Samir al-Rifai, Rouhi Fattouh and Anwar Abdel Hadi.
Two weeks ago, the Fatah officials held talks with Hamas leaders in Istanbul, Turkey, as part of efforts to reach agreement on achieving national unity and holding new elections for the Palestinian Authority presidency, the PA parliament (Palestine Legislative Council) and the Palestine National Council, the PLO’s legislative body.
During the meeting with the Syrian deputy foreign minister, Rajoub praised the Syrian government’s “ability to achieve security and stability,” and expressed hope that it would succeed in “eradicating terrorism in all parts of Syria.”
Relations between Fatah, the largest PLO faction, and Syria improved after the Syrian authorities expelled Hamas leaders and closed down their offices in Damascus several years ago.
The Syrian move came in response to Hamas’s refusal to support the Syrian government in its conflict with opposition groups seeking to overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad.
Relations between Fatah and Syria were strained during the 1970s and 1980s, when former Syrian president Hafez Assad supported and hosted Palestinian dissident groups opposed to former PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
In 1983, Arafat was declared persona non grata by the Syrian government and ordered to leave the country within three hours. The decision was announced after Arafat arrived in Damascus from Lebanon several hours earlier. The Syrian authorities said that Arafat was expelled because of his “continued slanders against Syria and its sacrifices.”
Rajoub and his accompanying delegation briefed the Syrian deputy foreign minister on the latest political developments, “especially in light of the delicate stage the Palestinian issue is going through amid the American-Zionist conspiracy against it, and the economic siege of the Palestinian people in an attempt to pressure the Palestinian leadership to accept their plans,” according to the PA’s official news agency Wafa. “Rajoub stressed that the Palestinian leadership, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, will not accept any scheme that detracts from the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”
Rajoub also briefed the Syrian deputy foreign minister on the results of his meetings with representatives of Damascus-based Palestinian groups, pointing out that there is consensus among all the factions on the need to achieve unity and partnership through comprehensive national elections, the agency added.
Mekdad, for his part, welcomed the Palestinian efforts to promote national unity, stressing Syria’s permanent and firm stance in support of the Palestinian cause and rejecting American-Israeli projects and any normalization between the Arab countries and Israel.
The Fatah delegation met in Damascus with representatives of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Popular Front-General Command, and As-Sa’iqa (also known as the Vanguard for the Popular Liberation War).
The five groups are part of the Palestinian “rejectionist” camp that opposes any peace process and is committed to an “armed struggle” against Israel.
In the past three months, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian leadership has been working to end its rivalry with Hamas. Last July, the two parties agreed to cooperate to “topple” US President Donald Trump’s plan for Mideast peace, “Peace to Prosperity,” and the since-shelved Israeli intention to apply sovereignty to portions of the West Bank.
After the signing of the diplomatic agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Fatah and Hamas stepped up their efforts to achieve unity and foil normalization between Israel and the Arab countries.
The rapprochement with Hamas has seen Abbas move closer toward Turkey and Qatar – the two countries that openly support his rivals in Hamas.
Last month, the leaders of 12 Palestinian factions, including Fatah, held a rare videoconference meeting in Ramallah and Beirut to discuss ways of achieving Palestinian unity.
On the eve of his visit to Damascus, Rajoub claimed that Israel and the US were currently trying to thwart Palestinian efforts to achieve national unity.
Rajoub again claimed that he and his Fatah colleagues have reached agreement with Hamas on holding general elections. Hamas, however, has denied the claim, explaining that the current dialogue with Fatah was not a substitute for a “comprehensive dialogue” between all Palestinian factions.