Hamas offices in Syria raided, adding to fears of Palestinian deportations
Abbas appeals to envoy for international protection as Palestinians increasingly involved in violence
Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel
Syrian forces stormed and ransacked the offices of two Hamas officials in Damascus Monday, in what some say is part of a larger clamp down against Palestinians in the country, which they fear may even reach mass deportation of Palestinian refugees.
In a statement published on Hamas’s official website Wednesday, the Islamic Palestinian movement reported that Syrian forces raided the office and apartment of Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal on November 5, emptying them of their contents. The forces then proceeded to confiscate Mashaal’s cars and lock the offices.
On Tuesday, the Syrian forces repeated that activity at the office of Hamas official Imad Al-Alami.
Hamas leaders abandoned the Damascus headquarters in January 2012, citing the regime’s brutal suppression of opposition protests. The movement has maintained some presence in Damascus, however. According to Reuters, the offices were guarded by Hamas members.
An unnamed Hamas official told London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi Tuesday that the purpose of the raid was to obtain equipment located in one of Hamas’s offices. He expressed fear that the Syrian regime will soon begin deporting Palestinian refugees from the country.
Hamas leaders abandoned the Damascus headquarters in January 2012, citing the regime’s brutal suppression of opposition protests
Hamas spokesman Salah Bardawil told the daily that the Syrian forces sealed the offices with red wax but that had no real affect, since the offices had been shut for months. Bardawil acknowledged a deterioration in Hamas’s relations with Iran since its leaders left Syria.
Hamas’s political leadership settled in Damascus in 1999 after being deported from Amman by Jordan’s newly-throned King Abdullah II, but relations with the Assad regime gradually soured as violence increased throughout 2011. On October 1, 2012, Syrian television described Mashaal as “ungrateful and traitorous” following his flight from Syria.
Hamas leaders are now scattered between Qatar, Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, Palestinians living in refugee camps have increasingly found themselves caught up in Syrian violence over the past months. In March, a car bomb exploded in the country’s largest refugee camp, Yarmouk, located on the outskirts of Damascus. In August, regime mortars reportedly killed over 20 Palestinian refugees in the camp.
But Palestinians have also shed blood in service of the regime.
Abbas told Brahimi that Palestinians should be removed from the ‘internal conflict’ raging in Syria
Most recently, Palestinians belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) led by Ahmed Jibril fought against opposition forces who entered the Yarmouk camp on Monday.
Meanwhile, a well-known Syrian-born Palestinian actor, Mohammed Rafeh, was shot dead in Damascus this week, reportedly punished for his support of the Assad regime.
When Syria’s unrest began last year, the Palestinians struggled to stay on the sidelines. But in recent months, many Palestinians started supporting the uprising although they insisted the opposition to the regime should be peaceful.
On Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas phoned international envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi and asked him to urgently intervene on behalf of Palestinian refugees living in the camps, the official WAFA news agency reported.
Abbas told Brahimi that Palestinians should be removed from the “internal conflict” raging in Syria.
Unnamed PLO sources told Al-Quds Al-Arabi they feared that Assad may resort to “crazy” actions in his desperation, and begin deporting Palestinian refugees estimated to number some 500,000 in Syria.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.