Refugees from Syria in Gaza Divided Over Assad
Palestinian refugees who fled the Syrian civil war are split – Some support Assad, the others support the opposition
YOUSEF ALHELOU, TRNN CORRESPONDENT, GAZA: A growing number of Palestinian refugees have come to Gaza to escape the two-year unrest in Syria. While most Palestinians are fleeing refugee camps in Syria headed to Lebanon, some of those who have relatives or connections in Gaza chose to flee to the tiny enclave. There is no official number yet for the people who managed to enter Gaza either via Egypt’s controlled Rafah land crossing or underground tunnels under Gaza-Egypt border, but the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimates the number to be around 800 people.
ADNAN ABU HASNA, UNRWA MEDIA ADVISER: If they are registered refugees, they will enjoy all the service from all the services that we provide to ordinary Palestine refugees, like, you know, education, health, [incompr.] program, food assistance, and everything. We are thinking also in the future to provide them with more, like fees for renting and something like that, but it just depends on the resources at UNRWA. If the resource is available, of course we will provide them with that.
ALHELOU: As confrontations between the Syrian regular army and opposition forces step up, the number of Palestinian refugees in Syria taking refuge in Gaza is on the rise. They chose Gaza because they have a better chance of getting entry, since the border between Gaza and Egypt is manned by Egyptians, unlike the more restricted crossings into the West Bank, which are controlled by Israel and closed to non-West Bank citizens. Israel denies the right of return to areas that are now inside Israel’s borders, but also into the West Bank. The refugees are not even allowed to pass through Israel as they flee for their lives from Syria.
Those refugees like Muhammad Shaikh, who spent 41 years in Syria, say that they have become refugees again after they have been displaced for the second time, firstly from Palestine, and then from Syria.
MUHAMMAD AL-SHAIKH, PALESTINIAN REFUGEE FROM SYRIA (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): For us, the Palestinian Nakba, or what is known as the catastrophe of 1948, is continuing, especially after the unrest in Syria. We Palestinians have become refugees another time. Some fled to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, and those who have relatives in Gaza came here.
We flew from Damascus airport to Cairo, and from there we came to Gaza by taxi. We were forced to leave our homes due to the destruction and killing in Syria. We faced many obstacles, delays, and much suffering until we managed to reach Gaza. We are glad that we made it safely here, and now we started a new life. We know that Gaza often come under Israeli attacks, so for us the danger is not yet over. But at least we are in our homeland.
ALHELOU: For its part, the Ministry of Interior in Gaza grants them ID cards referring to their new status. However, some of them taking refuge in Egypt face difficult situations, where UNRWA does not operate.
Since the turmoil started in Syria about two years ago, at least 1,000 Palestinians have been killed in the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Some of those newcomers say they support the overthrow of all Arab regimes, including President Bashar Assad, while others support him and describe what is happening in Syria as a conspiracy led by the U.S., Israel, and some Arab countries.
ABU ALI AMODI, PALESTINIAN CITIZEN (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): What’s happening in Syria is an international conspiracy to destroy Syria for its political stances against imperialism and Zionism, and also because of its support for the resistance against the Zionist occupation forces. I’m certain that the Syrian people and the government will defeat this conspiracy. My daughter is still in Syria studying there despite the unrest. We support President Bashar Assad against the mercenaries who are destroying Syria.
UNIDENTIFIED: They stand for the Palestinian peoples. And for me it’s not standing against or with any political party in Syria. But we understand, because of the situation in Syria and the killing of many people, that the regime of Bashar al-Assad is having the full responsibility, because he’s ruling and he can take decisions easily–he can leave the country, he can step aside and leave the political scene. This would make the situation much better for people in Syria.
UNIDENTIFIED: I think the demands of the Syrian revolutions are demands that every single freedom-lover accepts. These demands include freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought, and social justice. And I think the Palestinians in particular, Palestinians in Gaza Strip, in the West Bank in 1948, and the diaspora have been fighting for human rights and democracy. And these are the slogans of the Syrian revolution.
UNIDENTIFIED: Well, personally speaking, I’m with any country seeking for its self-determination and willpower. You know, I wish that the current situation won’t last long and the so-called Arab Spring will eliminate all dictators in the Middle East or either in any part of the world.
ALHELOU: The political bureau of Hamas, which has relocated its office from Syria to Qatar after it moved there from Jordan in 1999, said it respects the will of the Syrian people against President Bashar al-Assad. This stance has angered Syrians who live in Gaza.
UM ALI AMODI, SYRIAN CITIZEN (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): I tell my people to be steadfast and support our president, Assad, against the terrorists who came to destroy Syria. Those who claim to be a resistance movement and received endless support from the Syrian government in the past years should be ashamed of themselves. They have forgotten all of that support and are against the Syrian government. They even attacked a peaceful protest a few weeks ago in Khan Yunis against the Israeli airstrikes on Syria.
ALHELOU: And as the conflict in Syria is ongoing, for some of the 487,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, even the Hamas-controlled, tiny, blockaded Gaza, which is frequently bombarded by Israel, is preferable for them over Syria.
Yousef AlHelou, for The Real News, Gaza.
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