Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called Saturday for the absorption of Palestinian refugees fleeing war in Syria into the West Bank.
According to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, Abbas instructed the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, to cooperate with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “in taking appropriate and necessary action to absorb displaced Palestinian refugees into the occupied Palestinian territories.”
Abbas urged Mansour to work with the UN and the EU to pressure Israel to let Palestinian refugees from Syria cross into Palestinian areas.
According to Wafa, the Palestinian Authority seeks international help “to stop the Palestinians’ plight of displacement, death and dispersal in world countries due to the current difficult conditions in the region.”
“The Palestinian presidency deems this mission not just a humanitarian mission, but a right of every Palestinian living in exile and refugee camps [to return],” the statement said.
There are 13 refugee camps in Syria, with the largest being the Yarmouk Camp in Damascus. The camp was established after Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 as a community outside Damascus, but with the Syrian capital’s urban development it became part of the city.
At its peak the population of Yarmouk amounted to some 150,000 people but the camp was bombed by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad after the start of the Syrian civil war. In April this year, Islamic State fighters laid siege to the camp and then overran it. There are an estimated 18,000 people or less remaining in the camp.
The comments by Abbas came soon after Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said Israel had a moral obligation to take in some Syrian refugees. Herzog did not refer specifically to Palestinian refugees.
In January 2014, an Israeli columnist known for his usually hawkish views wrote a surprising column in which he said Israel should help the Palestinians in Yarmouk because of its indelible historical link to the Palestinian people.
“According to different reports, we’re talking about 20,000 people who are in a terrible danger of massacre and are starving. [The numbers] are not anything Israel cannot handle,” columnist Amnon Lord wrote in a column published in Ma’ariv, a Hebrew-language paper.
“Why not say this out loud: Israelis care about Palestinians more than about other population groups […] with all the accusations that Israel has against Palestinian actions, there is a closeness that can be admitted and accepted. We lived with them and in their proximity from a young age,” he wrote at the time.