Caught in the middle

Increasingly, Palestinian groups in Syria are finding neutrality a difficult position to keep, especially when some are funded by Iran, Al-Assad’s regional ally – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Khaled Amayreh, 9 – 15 August 2012.

Palestinians reacted angrily but helplessly to the killing last week of as many as 21 Palestinians, ostensibly at the hands of the Syrian army at the Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Damascus.  

According to the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other eyewitnesses, Bashar Al-Assad regime forces shelled the densely populated refugee camp with mortar fire around sunset Thursday, when refugees had just broken their day-long Ramadan fast.

At least two shells landed in Jauna Street in the middle of the camp, killing 21 and injuring more than 60 others.

Eyewitnesses said the second shell caused most of the casualties as refugees gathered to rescue occupants of a house hit by the first shell.

The Yarmouk camp is located not far from the Tadamun neighbourhood, where intensive fighting was taking place between regime forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the military arm of the Syrian revolution.

Palestinians in Syria and elsewhere, including the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas maintained strict neutrality between the regime and the opposition. However, this neutrality didn’t assuage the regime’s suspicions that the refugees, or many of them, had their hearts decidedly with the FSA and the opposition in general … //

… This week, his opponents urged him to leave the group and choose between loyalty to Palestine and loyalty to Bashar Al-Assad.

The choice is not easy. If Jebril abandoned Al-Assad, he could lose everything, including his own life.

Hamas has quietly scaled down its presence in Damascus, with most of the group’s top leaders leaving for Qatar and Egypt.

The move gave the Islamist group more freedom to be in harmony with the general mood in the occupied territories where the Palestinian public in both the West Bank and Gaza is decidedly supportive of the revolution and vehemently opposed to the Alawite regime.

In recent months and weeks, Islamist preachers began giving sermons on the need to identify with and support the Syrian revolution.

Moreover, homilies have been given in mosques educating worshipers on the “heretical nature” of Al-Assad’s Alawite sect, which has dominated the political scene in Syria for the past 45 years.

On Friday, a preacher at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem called the Syrian regime “murderous, evil and godless”.

“The regime of Bashar Al-Assad is the enemy of Muslims, the enemy of humanity and the enemy of God. We pray to the Almighty to speed up victory over this criminal regime.”

Another preacher in Hebron described the regime as “much worse than Israel”.

“We have been living under the Israeli occupation for many years, but we haven’t witnessed the kind of things we watch on TV,” said the preacher, alluding to the gruesome images of death and destruction in Syria.

Similarly, Hamas’s media outlets, including radio and TV, have markedly changed their tune in favour of the Syrian revolution.

Hamas is the ideological daughter of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, the ultimate anathema for the Al-Assad regime and one of the main revolutionary groups fighting to topple the regime.

The Al-Assad regime calls the Muslim Brothers Ikhwan Al-Shayatin or “the brothers of Satan” and considers them the ultimate enemy.

Given the fact that the bulk of Hamas’s constituencies are conservative religious Muslims, Hamas has probably come to realise that maintaining strict neutrality between the Damascus regime and its Sunni opponents is beyond its ability. Hence, the new tone.

This is not the same with the Islamic Jihad group, which depends on Iran, Al-Assad’s regional ally, for its financial survival. The relatively small group has said it is maintaining its presence in Damascus and has no plans to leave.

Nonetheless, the group is avoiding making comment on, or giving its reactions to, the Syrian crisis, likely to avoid upsetting the various sides in the situation, including the Palestinians themselves.
(full text).


Carnage at sunset, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Ahmed Selim, 9 – 15 August 2012;

Anger at the Brotherhood, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Gamal Essam El-Din, 9 – 15 August 2012.

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