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Palestinians Must Not Be Used As Cannon Fodder By Assad Regime

19 April 2015

By Khalid Amayreh in occupied Palestine

The PLO leadership has rejected, and rightly so, the idea of joining the forces of Syrian dictator Bashar el-Assad in a joint operation to expel Islamic State (IS) fighters from the already bombed-out Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus.

"We refused to drag our people and their camps into the hellish conflict which is happening in Syria and we categorically refuse to become one of the parties involved in the armed conflict that is taking place at Yarmouk," a statement issued by the PLO in Ramallah said.

"We refuse to be drawn into military actions, whatever or wherever they are, and we call for other means to ensure the safety of lives at Yarmouk and to prevent more destruction and forced displacement."

The latest decision ostensibly came after the PLO received warnings from various quarters in the region that fighting along the forces of Assad would lead to "dire consequences" for Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere.

As many as 300,000 people have been killed in the ongoing sectarian war in Syria where Assad has been trying to maintain his Alawite sect's grip in power in the face of severe opposition from the vast majority of Syrians. Moreover, as many as 13 million Syrians, roughly a half of Syria's population, have been forced to leave their homes.

Palestinian groups, including Hamas and Fatah, stressed repeatedly that they wouldn't take sides in the internecine war.

However, this didn't prevent the Assad regime's forces, including the notoriously barbaric paramilitary Shabbiha thugs, from targeting Palestinians. Reports issued by human rights organizations and third-party monitors speak of hundreds of Palestinian refugees killed or tortured to death at the hands of Syrian government forces and sectarian thugs fighting alongside the regime.

Some of the victims were reportedly killed on suspicion of sympathizing with the opposition while others were killed or tortured to death only for being "Sunnis."

A few weeks ago, Palestinian activists in Syria revealed that five new bodies of Palestinian refugees tortured to death in Syria were identified.

This brought the total number of Palestinians tortured to death in Assad's detention camps, dungeons and other torture chambers to more than 330.

But the real number is likely to be much higher.

Mistrust of Assad

It is not certain what prompted the PLO to backtrack on an earlier decision to join Assad's forces in a coordinated military operation against IS, which controls the bulk of the camp.

On Thursday, Ahmed Majdalani, a senior PLO official visiting Damascus, was quoted as saying that 14 Palestinian factions backed the idea of a joint military operation with the Assad's army to expel the IS fighters from the camp where more than 15,000 people, mostly Palestinian refugees, are trapped.

Abu Yousuf, a PLO official who would only give his nom de guerre and who was only speaking at the personal level, said the Palestinians couldn't trust Assad, ''given our unpleasant experience with this man and his criminal regime."

"First of all, Assad cannot be trusted. In the final analysis, a dictator that murders his own people without any feeling of guilt wouldn't spare the lives of Palestinians.

"Second, Assad wants to get the Palestinians involved in his war against his own people in order to gain lost legitimacy, needless to say."

Abu Yousef said Palestinian involvement in the Syrian quagmire would trigger unnecessary hostility between our people and wide sectors of the Palestinian people.

"If we allowed ourselves to be implicated in shedding Syrian blood, either directly or indirectly, we would effectively create many enemies in Syria and Palestinians and their just cause would pay a dear price for such a stupid move. Generations of Syrians would start to view us with sullen hostility. This is a trap that we must never allow our people to fall in.''

More risks

Apart from the expected rift with Syrians, Palestinian involvement on the side of Assad's forces would also alienate tens of millions of Arabs and Muslims, who would view us as virtual mercenaries fighting for an oppressive tyrant and an unjust cause.

Also, important countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia would detest a Palestinian move of this sort, which would tremendously undermine our national cause.

Eventually, this would inflict an incalculable harm to our just struggle, and make us regret such a folly for many years to come.

Indeed, Palestinians would look quite hypocritical and morally duplicitous if and when they are seen fighting on the side of criminal oppression in Syria while passionately asking the peoples of the world to identify with their own struggle against Israeli occupation and apartheid.

Khalid Amayreh is a veteran Palestinian journalist and current affairs commentator living in occupied Jerusalem. 



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