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Palestinians Caught Up in Syrian Conflict

The Syrian conflict isn’t just about Syrians fighting Syrians. Well into its second year, it has become a much larger conflict drawing in a wide range of states and ethnic and religious groups. Iraqis are picking sides. And Palestinians are getting involved as well. (Syria has been home to thousands of Palestinian refugees since the creation of Israel.)

The latest tensions began in the Yarmouk camp near Damascus, where about 150,000 Palestinian refugees reside. Some refugees have joined the Syrian-sponsored Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), which supports Assad. Others have defected from this group and have given the rebels weapons and other supplies. Now their goal is to attack those in Yarmouk who support the regime. Reuters has the story:

“We’ve been arming Palestinians who are willing to fight … We have formed Liwa al-Asifah (Storm Brigade) which is made up of Palestinian fighters only,” a rebel commander from the Suqour al-Golan (Golan Falcons) brigade told Reuters.

“Its task is to be in charge of the Yarmouk camp. We all support it and back it,” he added.

Rebels said they and the new brigade will attack Yarmouk fighters loyal to Ahmed Jibril, head of the Syrian-sponsored Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), accusing Jibril’s men of harassing camp residents and attacking Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters.

“Now they are targets for us, targets for all the FSA. All of them with no exceptions,” said another Syrian rebel commander who asked not to be named.

The violence that divided the Palestinian territories between Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Fatah-ruled West Bank is not unique. Violence between armed Palestinian groups aligned with different factions or backed by different foreign patrons has been all too common in the history of the Palestinian people. Arab governments have often seen the Palestinians as tools to be used in pursuit of various objectives, and the Assad regime in Syria was one of the most diligent at this task.

In the civil war now sweeping Syria, both sides want to use the Palestinians, and yet again two rival, armed factions of Palestinians are preparing to fight it out to serve the interests of their foreign paymasters and to settle some intra-Palestinian scores.

This is a tragic situation, and it is also one of the reasons that peace is so difficult in the Middle East. Israelis won’t make large territorial concessions to the Palestinians unless they are confident that the Palestinian government that signs the peace agreement will stay in power and be able to enforce the agreement.

The sight of armed Palestinian factions, funded by rival interests in the Arab world, duking it out in the refugee camps around Damascus will not build Israeli confidence that peace with a particular Palestinian faction will hold.

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