Tel Aviv, Asharq Al-Awsat—Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas had sought to secure the return of all Palestinian refugees in Syria to either the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. The plan was foiled by Tel Aviv, Asharq Al-Awsat has learned.
The Syrian crisis, which has raged for more than two years, has resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 people, in addition to nation-wide destruction and chaos. Throughout this period, Syria’s substantial Palestinian refugee community has been virtually trapped inside Syria due to the difficulty of finding refuge elsewhere, not to mention the severe restrictions that have been imposed by Bashar Al-Assad regime forces on a number of Palestinian refugee camps.
Palestinian and Israeli sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Abbas had contacted the Syrian authorities via Russia to secure the safe return of Palestinian refugees trapped in Syria to the Palestinian territories. This would require Israeli approval, according to the Oslo Accords. The Palestinian president duly contacted Tel Aviv in an attempt to secure Israeli consent. In exchange, he offered to ease restrictive Palestinian Authority conditions for the resumption of peace negotiations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added a condition of his own; namely, for all the returned Palestinian refugees to sign an agreement waiving their right of return.
Abbas completely rejected that condition, and the plans to secure the safe return of the Palestinian refugees in Syria fizzled out.
An estimated 500,000 Palestinian refugees were based in Syria according to the most recent figures, which were collected prior to the outbreak of the Syrian revolution. This figure is expected to have decreased significantly as a result of the number of people who have been displaced or who have sought to leave the country as a result of the two years of violence.
According to previous figures, a third of all Palestinian refugees reside in the Damascus region, while the rest are housed in 11 Palestinian refugee camps located across the country.
Analysts revealed that the majority of Palestinian refugees have refused to get involved in the Syrian crisis on either side, while the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership confirmed that it has no stake in the conflict. Other reports indicate that the Assad regime attempted to recruit the PLO and viewed their announcement of neutrality as something of a betrayal, particularly in light of the assistance and aid Damascus has offered them in the past.
Over the past month, Palestinian refugees in Syria have found themselves in the firing line of both the Assad regime forces and certain Syrian opposition militias.
The Working Group for Palestinian Refugees in Syria claimed that approximately 1,267 Palestinian refugees have been killed throughout the crisis, while tens of thousands of others have been displaced.
The group revealed that Palestinian refugee camps have come under fire from government forces, resulting in the deaths of many refugees. The working group report revealed that the Dara’a refugee camp was hit by a number of missiles, coinciding with clashes between the Free Syrian Army and Syrian regime forces earlier this year. Al-A’adin refugee camp was also reportedly shelled, following which Syrian regime forces stormed the camp looking for “wanted” figures.
From a humanitarian standpoint, Syria continues to suffer shortages of flour and fuel, resulting in closed bakeries and a lack of bread. The shortages are even more acute in Palestinian refugee camps, which are additionally suffering a severe lack of medicine and milk for children, following a breakdown in infrastructure and services.
The worst suffering is believed to be taking place in the Yarmouk refugee camp, close to the city of Damascus, which houses an estimated 120,000 Palestinian refugees. The residents there are suffering the effects of an ongoing blockade imposed by the Assad regime’s military since December 18, 2012, which has led to the closure of most hospitals and bakeries.
The Working Group for Palestinian Refugees in Syria report claimed that approximately 65,000 Palestinian refugees have fled Syria for neighboring countries since the outbreak of protests more than two years ago, particularly to Lebanon and Jordan.
Palestinian refugees arrived in Syria in three distinct waves: in 1948 following the Nakba, the Palestinian exodus following the establishment of the state of Israel; in 1967 following the Six-Day War; and in 1970 following the Black September civil war in Jordan.