Ramallah, Asharq al-Awsat – According to informed Palestinian sources, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad [PIJ] movement is thinking of moving its offices to Cairo or Beirut, because of the deteriorating situation in Damascus.
The sources affirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that PIJ leaders inside and outside [the Palestinian territories] met in Cairo last week in the presence of PIJ Secretary General Ramadan Shallah, his deputy Ziyad al-Nakhalah, and officials from Gaza, including Nafidh Azzam and Khalid al-Batsh and discussed the issue of relocating its operations to Cairo or Beirut.
According to the source, which spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, Shallah suggested at the meeting that work should begin as soon as possible to move the PIJ offices to Cairo or Beirut based on the available capabilities and the position of the country concerned. Some of those present at the meeting supported the proposal while others turned it down. The sources explained that “an agreement on one position was not reached because the proponents of the proposal encouraged a quick move while those opposed called for delaying the move until the situation in Syria becomes uncontrollable and the regime falls”.
A large delegation headed by Shallah began a visit on Wednesday to the Egyptian capital, Cairo to meet with the new Egyptian leaders and review the current and future Palestinian situation. Shallah met with Dr Muhammad Badi, the controller general of the Muslim Brotherhood movement; Ismail Haniyah, the prime minister of the dismissed cabinet in the Gaza Strip; and Murad Muwafi, director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate. According to the sources, the PIJ officials hinted to Muwafi that they may request opening PIJ offices in the future if the movement’s presence in Syria becomes impossible. The delegation was expected to meet with Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi as announced by Nafidh Azzam, member of the PIJ Political Bureau, who had said that the meeting with Mursi (that did not take place) would review several dossiers, especially the Palestinian issue, and events and developments in the Arab region. It is not known what prevented Mursi’s meeting with the PIJ delegation after he had met with a delegation from Hamas. Asharq Al-Awsat tried to contact PIJ officials in Gaza but they did not answer their cellular telephone calls. So far, the movement has not moved or closed any of its offices in the Syrian capital, Damascus contrary to the Hamas movement that ended its presence there. But the PIJ leadership left Syria for all practical purposes a few weeks ago with Shallah and his deputy spending most of their time between Egypt, Beirut, and Iran. The PIJ movement maintains its relationship with the Syrian regime as well as its relationship with the Iranian regime. The PIJ has repeatedly declined to criticize the Syrian regime and has also declined to support the Syrian revolution, contrary to its stands on the Egyptian, Tunisian, and Libyan revolutions.
Syria is a strong supporter of the PIJ and has embraced it for long time, just as it was a strong supporter of Hamas. However, Hamas’s relationship with the project of Syria’s arch enemy the Muslim Brotherhood movement hastened the divorce between Bashar’s regime and Hamas after the latter declined at the beginning to openly support him and later leaned implicitly in favor of the Syrian revolution. On past occasions, the PIJ used to deny that it intends to leave Syria. It said that in these difficult circumstances it cannot but be alongside the Palestinians. Last week and in response to a report in Asharq Al-Awsat on the PIJ leadership’s departure from Syria, PIJ Political Bureau member Nafidh Azzam asserted that “the leadership is still present in Syria”. He added: “The reports that talked about moving the offices and leaders of the PIJ from the Syrian capital, Damascus to Iran are absolutely untrue. Our leaders and offices are still in Damascus; nothing has changed”. On the PIJ’ stand on the events in Syria, Sheikh Azzam declined to comment, saying only “we are still in Syria”. The sources responded by affirming that the PIJ leadership left Egypt for Gaza and Beirut and has not returned to Syria yet. They are avoiding staying there as much as possible, the sources added.