Palestinians in Syria

The Washington Post reports on the fractured relationship between Syria’s 500,000 Palestinians and the ruling Assad family: Palestinian refugees in Syria, in comparison with many countries in the region, are more integrated into society and have greater rights, such as the right to own property. As a result, the Assads have long touted themselves as regional leaders for the Palestinian cause.

So it was no small snub when some Palestinians supported the uprising and took up arms against the government. Opposition activists say there are units within the rebel Free Syrian Army made up entirely of Palestinian fighters.

There is also a sectarian dimension. Sunni Palestinians sympathize with the predominantly Sunni opposition in its fight against a Syrian government led by Alawites, who are an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam.

Within the Palestinian community, the group that best embodies the conflicting views is Hamas. This year, Hamas’s political leader, Khaled Meshal, expressed support for the Syrian opposition and moved his base to Qatar, a dramatic step for a group that had been receiving Syrian support for more than a decade.

“The regime supported us — that’s true. But the Syrian people have also supported us,” said the head of international relations for Hamas, Osama Hamdan, who is based in Beirut.

He added: “We as the Palestinian people are seeking to have our freedom, our right of self-determination. So we will not stand in a position which may be against the will of any nation or any people.”

But the leaders of Hamas’s military wing, which is largely based in the Gaza Strip, have taken a different stance, analysts say. In recent years they have received financial and military assistance as well as training from Iran, one of President Bashar al-Assad’s closest allies, and have remained supportive of the Syrian government.

The group’s difficult position on the Syrian uprising was evident in comments Meshal made at a news conference in Cairo on Wednesday. He thanked Iran for its support during the recent Israeli military operation targeting Gaza but noted that his praise came despite “disagreements on the situation in Syria.”

Syrian security services raided Meshal’s office in Damascus this month, according to a Hamas statement. But the fallout between Hamas and the Syrian government had surfaced earlier this year; in late June, Hamas official Kamal Ghanaja was assassinated in Damascus, and his body reportedly showed signs of torture.

Many activists say the killing was carried out by Syrian security services in retaliation for the group’s shifting allegiances.

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