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Palestinians turn against Syria's regime, their long-time advocate

Palestinian refugees living in Syria protest brutality of Assad government.

There is unconfirmed evidence that the carefully orchestrated move to allow Palestinian protesters to cross the border with Israel came from the highest ranks of the regime.

An allegedly leaked memo from the office of the Mayor of Quneitra, the closest Syrian town to the Golan border, describes how Assef Shawkat, President Assad’s brother-in-law, the former chief of military intelligence and the current deputy head of the armed forces, ordered a military intelligence captain to assist protestors to cross the fence.

“Permission is hereby granted allowing approaching crowds to cross the cease fire line toward the occupied Majdal-Shamms [Golan Heights], and to further allow them to engage physically with each other in front of United Nations agents and offices. Furthermore, there is no objection if a few shots are fired in the air,” the memo read.

The leaked document was supplied by Radwan Ziadeh, head of the Damascus Center for Human Rights and a visiting scholar at Harvard University. While it could not be independently verified, Ziadeh has been a consistently reliable source of information on the Syrian uprising.

The U.S. deputy ambassador to the U.N., Rosemary DiCarlo, said the protest in the Golan represented “a transparent ploy by the Syrian government to incite violence along the disengagement line in order to divert public attention from its own indiscriminate killings and abuses of the human rights of the Syrian people.”

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That position was backed by similar robust statements from German and French U.N. ambassadors.

Despite the deaths in the Golan and Yarmouk, by no means all Palestinians have broken with the regime.

“Syria is the only country in the Arab world which deals with Palestinians as its citizens,” said a pro-Syrian Palestinian activist close to the PFLP-GC, who asked to be known only as Ibrahim.

“Syria has been supporting Palestinian groups for more than four decades and now is the time for these groups to reward Syria and stand with it in this big crisis.”

Ibrahim said the PFLP-GC and Fatah Intifada, a Syrian-backed radical offshoot of Fatah, would remain loyal to Assad. He criticized Hamas, the powerful Islamist group, for choosing to remain neutral in Syria. Hamas had apparently rejected demands by the regime, quoted in a report by the International Crisis Group, that it provide political and material support to crush the protests.

In an interview with France 24 on May 9, Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ Damascus-based leader, described the Arab Spring as “beautiful” and said freedom and democracy are needed in Syria.

The regime has further deepened animosity among Palestinians by seeking, in the early days of the uprising, to directly blame Palestinians for inciting the instability.

On March 21, the private daily Al Watan, owned by Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf, said unrest in Daraa was the work of the defunct jihadist group Fatah al-Islam, which rose up in 2007 in a Palestinian camp in Lebanon.

On March 26, Bouthaina Shaaban, Assad’s political advisor, claimed Palestinians from the Al-Ramel refugee camp outside the port city of Lattakia had attacked stores in an effort to ignite a civil war.

Writing in the Beirut-based An-Nahar, which is regularly critical of the Syrian regime, Randa Haydar said the protests against the PFLP-GC in Yarmouk represented “a popular and spontaneous uprising against the Palestinian factions taking advantage of the refugees as well as the Syrian regime trading in the blood of Palestinians.”

A Syrian official, quoted in the International Crisis Group report, put it more bluntly: “The regime can no longer claim to be standing up for resistance.”

Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand reported from Beirut, with reporters inside Syria.