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PFLP-GC says Palestinian brigade in Syria 'dangerous'

Nov. 2, 2012 12:55 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 5, 2012 10:08 A.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- A Palestinian faction in Syria aligned with President Bashar Assad said Friday that reports of a rebel-formed Palestinian brigade to challenge their authority was a "dangerous development."

Syrian rebels said on Wednesday they had begun arming Palestinians to establish the Liwa al-Asifah (the Storm Brigade) to wrest control of Damascus' Yarmouk refugee camp.

The largest Palestinian camp in Syria, Yarmouk is largely under the control of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command. Rebels accuse the faction of attacking them and cracking down on dissent against Assad.

PFLP-GC politburo member Hussam Arafat said on Friday that arming anti-Assad Palestinians would constitute a real danger to all Palestinians living in Syria.

Palestinian officials insist that refugees in Syria are not involved in the deadly war rocking the country, citing security concerns for the vulnerable refugee population if they are perceived to take sides.

But Syria's uprising has split Palestinian loyalties, with many ordinary Palestinians sympathetic to the uprising by their fellow Sunnis, and others recalling the Syrian government's long-support for Palestinians.

Divisions over arming camps

Arafat said the PFLP-GC was protecting Palestinian refugee camps with local brigades to fend off "terrorist attacks."

The faction's involvement in armed brigades has drawn the criticism of other Palestinian political leaders.

Senior Fatah official in Damascus Mohamed Abu al-Qasim said Thursday he continued to reject PFLP-GC's arming of local committees, "as they will do more harm than good." Al-Qasim also denied the rebels' touting of a Palestinian brigade as a "media fantasy".

"We are still suffering from the militarization of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, but we in Syria for 60 years have stayed away from political and armed disputes inside Palestinian refugee camps," he told Ma'an.

In August, the director of the PLO’s politburo in Damascus Anwar Abdul-Hadi blamed the PFLP-GC for drawing deadly attacks on Yarmouk camp by arming Palestinians.

"We reject this completely because our protection is the responsibility of the state of Syria, and we are only guests there," he said.

Even within the group, senior officials have protested Secretary-General Ahmad Jibreel's open support for President Assad. Six members of PFLP-GC's central committee were reported in August to have resigned in protest.

In his comments on Friday, the PFLP-GC official echoed rhetoric from the Assad regime, blaming rebel fighters for a foreign-controlled plot.

Their announcement of a Palestinian brigade demonstrates a Zionist plot, which will involve Palestinians in the conflict and result in their deportation from Syria, Arafat said.

Syria is home to nearly 500,000 UN-registered Palestinian refugees. An additional 120,000 Palestinians reside in Syrian cities.

In August, Palestinian official Muhammad Shtayyeh said around 400 Palestinians had been killed in the internal conflict, although that figure is estimated to have significantly increased in recent months.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said shelling of the Husseiniyah neighborhood of Damascus killed eight Palestinian refugees on Sunday, six of whom were reported to be children playing in a public playground.

On Monday, another refugee who had gone missing was found dead, and four Palestinian relatives were among the casualties of a minibus explosion near Damascus, UNRWA said.
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