Thousands of Palestinian refugees in Syria flee during military assault

The New York Times reports:

United Nations officials said Tuesday that as many as 10,000 residents of a Palestinian refugee neighborhood in the Syrian port city of Latakia had fled during a four-day assault, as security forces carried out more arrests and intimidation in what residents said was a government attempt to rebuild a wall of fear in one of Syria’s largest cities.

Latakia, on the country’s Mediterranean coast, is the third locale to bear the full brunt of military and security forces this month, though the government has also persisted in its crackdown on the suburbs of Damascus and Homs, the third-largest city. The violence has provoked international condemnations that have grown sharper, but still stopped short of demanding that President Bashar al-Assad step down.

On Tuesday in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said it was more effective to forge international consensus against Mr. Assad — as well as intensify economic pressure through sanctions — than for the United States alone to lead the way.

“It’s not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go,” Mrs. Clinton said at the National Defense University. “O.K., fine, what’s next? If Turkey says it, if King Abdullah says it, if other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it.”

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinian refugees, said that it had no information on the whereabouts of the Latakia Palestinians. Activists have said many of the displaced have left for the countryside or Aleppo, Syrian’s second-largest city, to the northeast.

“A forgotten population has now become a disappeared population,” said Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the agency in Jerusalem, calling the situation “very, very worrying.”

Reuters reports:

Syria’s crackdown on government opponents has deeply embarrassed the Palestinian group Hamas, which is anxious not to anger its backers in Damascus while at the same time hoping not to alienate its supporters at home.

President Bashar al-Assad’s five-month purge of protesters has gathered pace since the start of August, causing thousands of Palestinians to flee a refugee camp in the city of Latakia this week as Syrian security forces attacked the area.

Ordinary Palestinians watching from a distance in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been swift to denounce the violence, but the Islamist group Hamas has itself said nothing and tried to prevent public displays of anti-Syrian sentiment.

“If they keep silent they will score points with the Syrian regime,” said political analyst Talal Okal, explaining that such a stance could be politically costly in the Palestinian Territories, especially in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas.

“The people will not accept it and will see it as a betrayal of the Palestinian refugees in Syria,” he added.
A number of Hamas leaders, including its chief, Khaled Meshaal, moved to Syria after they were expelled from Jordan in 1999. From there they hone their strategy against arch-foe Israel and are relatively free to move around the region.

But the Sunni Muslim group’s dependence on Assad, who is from Syria’s minority Alawite community, is proving a boon for some Hamas’ rivals, who have been highly critical of the violence that rocked the Al Raml refugee camp.

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