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  • 10:23 - 24 January 2013

Syrian Palestinians fear three-way fight for control of refugee camps

Gaza,(DRAH.ps)--  Syria’s Palestinians have been trapped by the conflict in that country, much the way Palestinian refugee populations found themselves trapped between factions in the civil wars in Iraq and Lebanon.

 Now some Palestinians in Syria say they fear fighting among Palestinian factions, much the same way Palestinian groups clashed with one another during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war.

 Iraq had a comparatively small number of Palestinians compared to the half-million refugees who call Syria home. In Iraq, the majority of the estimated 30,000 Palestinian refugees eventually fled. Because they did not hold passports, thousands were trapped on the borders of Syria and Jordan, in some cases for years.

 Now Syrian Palestinians fear their travel options will be similarly restricted even as the battle for control of the country’s 13 refugee camps intensifies. Some of the camps, which are actually neighborhoods that are often home to poor Syrians and Iraqi refugees as well as Palestinians, already have been badly damaged by fighting.

 There are 13,000 Palestinians from Syria now in Lebanon, according to the United Nations Relief Works Agency, which administers millions of Palestinian refugees inside and outside the West Bank and Gaza. Syrian activists say the number is closer to 30,000, and that most have taken refuge in four of Lebanon’s Palestinian camps.

 Palestinians from the Yarmouk neighborhood of Damascus, the country’s largest “camp,” said that they are caught between two sides and that both the government and the rebels have engaged in the suppression of dissent.

 “Some of the rebel battalions are making big mistakes and provoking people in the Yarmouk camp,” said Nidal, a Syrian Palestinian from Yarmouk who asked that his last name be withheld for security reasons. He named a pair of anti-government activists who had been detained by the rebels for encouraging all armed factions to withdraw from Yarmouk, one of whom he said was still being held.

 “These actions made many Palestinian people angry with the two sides, and they are preparing now according to activists inside the camp to start fighting all the sides which are destroying the camp,” Nidal said.

 Other complaints are even more basic.

 “The (rebels) didn’t bring bread like they said,” said Mohamed Abu Eyad, an anti-government activist from Yarmouk who had fled the area with his family. He said he remained a supporter of the rebels, but he also feared them.

 “If you tell them something is wrong, now they do the same thing the government does,” he said.

 He said the chaos and looting by rebel groups had played out the same way it has in other parts of the country – it had increased support for rebel groups who call for an Islamic state to replace President Bashar Assad’s government. Groups like Jabhat al Nusra, declared a terrorist group with links to al Qaida by the U.S. government, have capitalized.

 “Nusra are very organized. They follow orders,” Abu Eyad said. “In Yarmouk, they even stopped other groups from looting.”

 Other former peaceful activists said they would start their own militias, independent of the rebels and the government.

 They also said that Lebanon’s camps had become strongholds of support for different Palestinian militias, and that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command, a Palestinian militia that acts as a Syrian government proxy in Damascus, was training fighters to return to Syria. The PFLP-GC also was active in the Lebanese civil war, and though many PFLP-GC fighters defected to the rebels when fighting began in Yarmouk five months ago, the group remains strong, especially at the perimeter of the camp, Abu Eyad said.

McClatchy Newspapers

 

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