PA Ambassador: Palestinians in Syria will Remain Neutral

Palestinians in Syria will remain neutral in the conflict, a Palestinian Authority official said Saturday, as refugees become increasingly caught up in the violence.

Rising numbers of Palestinians are leaving their homes because of the fighting and in the latest attack on Yarmouk refugee camp 20 people were killed and 65 injured.

However, the Palestinian Authority has reiterated that the Palestinians in Syria should remain neutral as they are "guests" and not Syrian citizens.

An aid convoy from the West Bank to the Palestinian refugees in Syria will depart Ramallah for Jordan on Monday, then to the Syria, the PA ambassador to Damascus Mahmoud al-Khalidi told Ma’an.

He highlighted that the aid convoy consisted of a truckload of medicines, three truckloads of flour, and 11 truckloads of various food products. Each truck, he added, carries 1,600 food packages.

In July 2011, the PA managed to upgrade diplomatic representation in Syria to an ambassadorial level, inaugurating the PA embassy in Damascus.

Asked about entry to Syria, al-Khalidi said the embassy coordinated with the deputy foreign minister of Syria who gave directives to the concerned authorities to facilitate entry of the convoy and exempt it from custom taxes. The aid will be distributed in all refugee camps in Syria, the ambassador added.

Commenting on the recent attacks on the Yarmouk refugee camp, he said that the situation is problematic because the majority of residents in the outskirts of the camp are Syrians.

"It is called a refugee camp, but its population is more than 1.25 million the majority of whom are Syrians living in the outskirts," he said. Hot areas, he explained, are being shelled, and because there are both Palestinian and Syrian homes in the same neighborhoods, Palestinians fall victims.

For example, al-Khalidi Deraa refugee camp is in the middle of two hot areas. On one side, there is a refugee camp for Syrian immigrants and on the other there is the al-Sadd neighborhood, which is engaged.

As for Thursday’s massacre in the Yarmouk camp, the ambassador explained that a mortar shell hit a house, and the residents hurried to gather near the house when two other shells hit the same area again.

Al-Khalidi reiterated that the official Palestinian stance has not changed.

"We still maintain that Palestinian refugee camps remain neutral toward the Syrian conflict," he said, asserting that he had a meeting with all 15 Palestinian factions, and they all agreed not to take sides.

The PA ambassador pointed out that Hamas’ leaders left Syria leaving behind only a small number of affiliates. The embassy in Damascus, he said, is in touch with those Hamas people who are still in Syria.

As for Islamic Jihad’s leaders, al-Khalidi said they had not left Syria.

About 494,000 registered Palestinian refugees live in Syria camps which were established in 1948 after the Nakba, or catastrophe, in which Palestine residents fled or were expelled.

In addition, there are 150,000 Palestinians who moved freely to Syria from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Jordan. They are not registered as refugees.

(Ma’an)

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