A high-ranking Palestinian delegation arrived in Damascus on Sunday in a bid to persuade the Assad regime to protect Palestinian refugees living in Syria, many of whom have fled their homes as fighting between government and opposition forces engulfed the country’s refugee camps.
The Palestinian delegation, headed by Fatah official Zakaria Al-Agha and including Labor Minister Ahmad Majdalani, was set to meet Monday with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and members of Palestinian factions to discuss ways of distancing Palestinian refugee camps from the civil war raging in the country since early 2011.
UNRWA, a UN agency that aides Palestinian refugees, on February 8 reported a “particularly grave humanitarian crisis” in Syrian refugee camps as fighting intensified in the Rif Damascus region, where many of the camps are located. According to UNRWA, refugees are experiencing acute shortages of water, electricity and medical services.
Nearly 500,000 Palestinian refugees are registered with UNRWA in Syria, living in nine official and three unofficial refugee camps. But recent reports indicated that half the residents of Yarmouk, the largest of Syria’s Palestinian refugee camps, have fled their homes following heavy fighting between the pro-Assad Palestinian faction PFLP-GC and the opposition’s Free Syrian Army.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas told journalists last month that Israel had agreed to allow the entry of 150,000 Yarmouk refugees into the West Bank on condition that they forgo their “right of return,” claims denied both by Israel and by the UN.
Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour last month declared that his country would not let in Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria for fear of tilting the demographic balance in the Hashemite Kingdom in favor of the Palestinians.
The Palestinian visit may mark a new era in relations between the Palestinian Authority and the Assad regime, following Hamas’s departure from Syria in early 2012 and the ensuing crisis in relations.
According to Lebanese opposition daily Al-Mustaqbal, the Palestinian delegation will attempt to disarm factions within the camps. Syria, for its part, will open a new Palestinian embassy in a building owned by Fatah but confiscated by the government in the mid 1980s.
A joint Syrian-Palestinian committee will be formed to define property taken by the Syrian government in the ’80s “due to political differences,” and allow the PLO to repossess it, Al-Mustaqbal reported.
Abbas has consistently stressed his position of political neutrality toward the conflict in Syria.