Hamas and the Palestinian Authority rejected the United Nations’ request that they take in Palestinian refugees who fled Syria during the ongoing brutal civil war, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Thursday.
Finding themselves increasingly isolated, some 150,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria — there are approximately 350,000 in total in the country — were forced to flee the Yarmouk refugee camp located outside Damascus due to attacks, including an aerial bombardment, by the Bashar Assad regime. Their flight has created a humanitarian crisis in Damascus; others have fled to Lebanon and Jordan, reportedly causing those countries to become increasingly hostile to their presence there.
According to the report, head of Hamas in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh told UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, that the Gaza Strip couldn’t take in Syria’s Palestinian refugees due to an ideological issue: If they take in the refugees from Syria, Israel could use it against them when it comes to the Palestinians’ demand for the “right to return” to villages inside present day Israel, by pointing out that the refugees no longer need to return to Israel because they have been relocated to new homes in the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian Authority’s refusal stems from a different reason — a financial one. The PA, which, according to the report, initially inquired about absorbing the Palestinian refugees in Syria, has experienced severe budget cuts and has begged Arab leaders for millions of dollars in loans to solve its debt crisis. The PA’s coffers have been hurt following Israel’s decision not to hand over PA tax revenues and other related payments in the wake of President Mahmoud Abbas’s successful UN bid for nonmember observer status in November.
In December, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, citing the fragile situation of the Palestinian refugees in Syria, called on Damascus’s neighbors, including Israel, to open their borders to them.