Palestinians in Syria Divided Over Uprising

Some Palestinian factions based in Syria have come out in support of the Assad regime, helping security forces police the camps in search of dissenters. Nabil Kassir writes that divisions within the Palestinian community in Syria are largely the result of the leadership’s failure to take a clear stance on the crisis, provoking violent outbreaks.

al-monitor Syrian police stop Palestinian protesters from trying to demonstrate outside the refugee camp of Yarmouk near Damascus March 29, 2002. Photo by REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri.

Topics covered

yarmouk refugee camp, syrian crisis, syrian, palestinian refugees, palestinian, plo, pflp, golan heights, al-naksa, 1967 war

Feb 16, 2012

Many [sources] have reported on the mass shooting that occurred on February 6, 2012 in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, without [taking into account the significance of] the changes that have occurred since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution.

Throughout the crisis that has tormented the Syrian regime, Palestinian factions have been divided over whether to support or oppose the protests. [Each faction has decided which position to take] based on its relations with the regime. Some Palestinians have supported the regime and others have called upon the refugees not to take part in the protests. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) remains at the head of the pro-regime forces. The PFLP-GC has deployed all of its available capacities in support of the regime, unaware that such actions would ignite strife between the Syrian people and their Palestinian guests, some of whom have announced on many occasions their unequivocal support for the Syrian Revolution.

Lack of Interests

The Palestinian authorities [in Syria] have misread the reality inside the Palestinian refugee camps as it relates to the revolution. [These authorities] have long been far-removed from the Palestinian street (since the 1980s), and  the personal interests [of Palestinian leaders] have been at the heart of most of their recent decisions. [This divided support for the uprising led to] nightly sweeps of refugee camps in Damascus by the Syrian authorities, usually between 11pm and 4am. These nightly patrols are intended to thwart any peaceful Palestinian movement in support the Syrian rebels.

During the heavy gun battle that took place at the Yarmouk refugee camp on June 6, 2011, pro-government militants opened fire on peaceful Palestinian protesters. According to information leaked at the time, the PFLP-GC then demanded an increase in joint patrols (of all factions) in order to protect the camp from "infiltrators" and "terrorists" [trying to foment rebellion from inside the camps]. However, other Palestinian factions refused to take part in the patrols, declaring that the protection of the camps is the duty of the Syrian government alone.

Nevertheless, shortly afterwards, the Syrian Government gave the the PFLP-GC and the Palestinian Regional Command of the Ba'ath Party the green light to  to arm their cadres and pursue Palestinian activists who refused to instigate violence in the camps. Many activists were abducted, or arrested and prosecuted when they protested peacefully against the Syrian Army's storming of the al-Ramel Palestinian refugee Camp in Latakia in mid-August [2011]. In consequence, the Palestinian youth were started creating [solidarity] groups and committees on Facebook and on other social-media websites. [These sites would include] one page in particular, titled the Palestinian List of Shame [a list of people who have negatively influenced the revolution, which included pro-regime politicians and religious men].

Several days ago, the Yarmouk camp in Damascus has witnessed clashes and heavy shootings,  resulting in the arrest of two people and wounding three others. For almost ten days now, the camp has been gripped by daily demonstrations in support of the Syrian Revolution, especially following the crackdown on the Palestinian refugee camps in most of the Syrian provinces, including the camp in Daraa, and the al-Ramel [camp] in Latakia.


Syria’s prisons are filled with Palestinian prisoners, and dozens of Palestinian refugees have been killed in the  Syrian army’s military campaign. Most of the [slain] refugees were residents of camps that were heavily bombed [by the Syrian army] in cities like Daraa, Homs and Latakia. Although the Palestinians were outraged [at the Syrian army’s heavy handed approach to these events], they remained neutral at the beginning of the crisis. Later, however, some factions decided to side with the Syrian regime. This sparked a wave of angry reactions [and protests], epitomized by the events of June 6, 2011 [when Palestinian protesters were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers as they attempted to cross into the Golan Heights]. [After this incident] thousands of Palestinians mobilized in front of the Khalisa Building to protest against what they called the regime’s cheap trade in Palestinian blood. Protesters blamed Palestinian factions for the massacre, which took place on the border of the Israeli-occupied Golan during the demonstrations marking the [44th] anniversary of the “Naksa” [the Setback, in reference to the 1967 war which ended with Israel controlling the Golan]. The PFLP-GC committed a similar massacre in which ten Palestinians were killed and hundreds of others were wounded.

Most of the released Palestinian detainees have expressed their anger at the indifference of the Palestinian authorities - namely the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) - regarding their arrests. Many of the detainees said that the interrogators showed them photos bearing Palestinian official seals, an indication that Palestinian factions provided the Syrian security forces with these photos in order to facilitate their arrests.

Today, Palestinians are voicing concerns about the practices of the Palestinian authorities inside the refugee camps. They also expressed their resentment at the PLO and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) indifference [to the events] and their lack of protection for the camps. Palestinian refugees have the impression that they have become "orphans," as one of the released detainees said. They are "being arrested and released, unnoticed," said another former  prisoner.

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