For many Palestinians today the conflict in Syria is a source of deep shame. This is because large numbers of Palestinian men have joined the ranks of the foreign-backed extremists trying to destabilize the Syrian government of Bashar al Assad.
The covert war of regime change in Syria, sponsored by the US and other NATO powers along with Saudi Arabia and Israel, has caused as many as 130,000 deaths and over nine million displaced persons – 40 per cent of the Syrian population.
Since the conflict began in mid-March 2011, largely fomented by these foreign forces, the estimated damage to Syria’s social infrastructure is put at a colossal $100 billion.
To put that last figure into perspective, this week’s UN appeal for humanitarian aid to Syria – the biggest ever such appeal – managed to raise a comparatively paltry $2.4 billion.
In a word, Syria has been devastated. And for Palestinians this is a cause of acute anguish.
Like many Arab and non-Arab countries, including the US, Canada, Britain and France, mercenaries from the Palestinian territories have flocked to Syria to join the much-distorted “jihad” which Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf monarchies are bankrolling.
It is estimated, according to the Financial Times and other sources, that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have funnelled more than $9 billion into Syria over the past three years to pay wages and supply weapons to the extremist brigades, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic Front.
Ironically, for the UN humanitarian appeal for Syria, held in Kuwait earlier this week, both Saudi Arabia and Qatar pledged a combined total of $120 million.
In other words, these two Persian Gulf monarchies have spent 75 times more on fuelling conflict and destruction in Syria than what they are now pledging in “humanitarian assistance”.
In Syria, the dominant anti-government militants share the same fundamentalist Wahhabi ideology of the Persian Gulf monarchies, and they have varying affiliation with Al Qaeda. They are also aligned with the extreme Salafist fringes of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This ideological spectrum has drawn in factions of the Hamas movement in Palestine, which has traditional links with the Muslim Brotherhood and more recently has been the recipient of aid donations totalling some $200 million from the Qatari royal rulers.
Why is this particularly shameful for Palestinians? Well, of all the Arab countries that have provided humanitarian aid and solidarity to the Palestinians down through the decades perhaps none has been as loyal and self-sacrificing in its fraternal help than the Syrian Arab Republic.
From the Zionist Nakba massacres against the Palestinians in 1948 until the present day, Syria has received millions of Palestinian refugees with open arms. The country is believed to host the biggest exiled Palestinian population in whole the region.
One of the largest Palestinian communities in Syria is at the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus where some 20,000 live. But, as political analyst Christof Lehmann points out, the term “refugee camp” is misleading. This is because the Palestinian residents have always been granted full Syrian citizenship and civil rights. “Yarmouk is more of an ordinary suburb of Damascus,” notes Lehmann, “but it has a technical status of refugee camp under Syrian and international law.” This is a measure of the traditional hospitality bestowed on the Palestinian Diaspora inside Syria.
Since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Palestinian factions within the Yarmouk district have allowed the foreign-backed
extremists of Jabhat al Nusra and others to infiltrate and occupy large swathes.
“Half of Yarmouk has been overrun by Jabhat al Nusrah and some other Al Qaeda brigades, as well as some small Muslim Brotherhood brigades,”
says Lehmann. “Sadly, Hamas has been playing a role in this through a recruitment campaign among young Palestinians to join the anti-government forces in Syria.”
The analyst says that this occupation by Al Qaeda brigades has led to a dire humanitarian situation in Yarmouk, where residents are suffering from severe chronic shortages of food and medicines. Several dozen civilians are believed to have died from deprivation caused directly by the siege.
Anti-government factions within Yarmouk blame the Syrian army for the blockade and they claim it is being used as a tactic to force submission. This narrative has been zealously amplified by the Western media as a way of discrediting the Assad government.
But many observers say that it is the foreign-backed militants who are holding the Yarmouk residents as hostages and as human shields. This week a UN aid convoy of food trying to enter the area was turned back when it came under fire from gunmen believed to be from the militant side.
This view was echoed by Palestinian Labour Minister Ahmad Majdalani who this week visited the Yarmouk area. Majdalani warned of a dire humanitarian unfolding among the residents because of the ongoing blockade. He blamed the foreign-backed insurgents. “The source of fire [on the aid convoy] was known... to be controlled by Al Nusra Front, Ahrar al Sham and Suqur al-Golan,” said Majdalani.
Some of the bad blood between the Assad government and radical Salafists stems from a period of bloody repression in the mid-1980s against Muslim Brotherhood insurgents carried out by Bashar al Assad’s father, the late Hafez al Assad.
Nevertheless, that baleful episode must be set against more than six decades of unstinting solidarity afforded to the Palestinian people by the Syrian state.
The central fact is that the historical plight of the Palestinian people in Syria and beyond has come at the hands of Western-backed Zionist aggression. In contrast to Syria, the oil-rich Saudi regime has been derelict in its support to the Palestinian cause and refugees in particular.
Syria today is living through a nightmare aggression inflicted by Washington and its imperialist allies, including Israel and Saudi
Arabia. That factions of Palestinians have joined cause with the imperialist axis bearing down on Syria is a shameful betrayal of Syria for many other Palestinians, both in the Middle East and around the world.
By Finian Cunningham
Sat Jan 18, 2014
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in journalism. He is also a musician and songwriter. For nearly 20 years, he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organisations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Originally from Belfast, Ireland, he is now located in East Africa as a freelance journalist, where he is writing a book on Bahrain and the Arab Spring, based on eyewitness experience working in the Persian Gulf as an editor of a business magazine and subsequently as a freelance news correspondent. The author was deported from Bahrain in June 2011 because of his critical journalism in which he highlighted systematic human rights violations by regime forces. He is now a columnist on international politics for Press TV and the Strategic Culture Foundation.