Palestinian Envoy Broke PLO Line to Agree Yarmouk Deal With Assad Regime

Yarmouk ISIS Syria
Residents wait to receive food aid distributed by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) at the besieged al-Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus on January 31, 2014. Reuters / Handout

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official who announced an agreement for a joint military operation between the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime and Palestinian factions against ISIS in Yarmouk refugee camp did so against PLO wishes and policies because of allegiances to the Syrian government and may be removed from his position as a consequence, Newsweek can reveal.

This week, Ahmed Majdalani, the former Palestinian Authority Labour minister, headed a delegation to the Syrian capital, Damascus, from the West Bank for talks with the Syrian government and yesterday confirmed that a "joint operation centre" will be created for Palestinian groups in Syria and the Syrian regime to coordinate an offensive against ISIS after the terror group captured large parts of the encampment last week.

However, a senior official within the PLO, speaking on condition of anonymity to Newsweek, said that members of the Palestinian executive body were "very upset" with Majdalani's breaking of the PLO's official line to announce cooperation with the Syrian government, claiming that he did so because the faction of which he is the secretary-general, the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, is supported by the Assad regime.

"His faction is supported by the Syrian regime. He is not a Fatah person. He was a refugee in Syria and is someone who knows Syria very well," the official said. "It is probably that he was talking as the head of his organisation rather than as a PLO envoy because we have a clear policy when it comes to involvement in foreign conflicts."

"He was sent to represent the views of everyone, when he made the statement though, he stopped representing the official view of the PLO," the official noted, warning that a "solution" to Majdalani's actions could be that "he will no longer be the envoy to Syria".

An official PLO statement released last last night countered Majdalani's announcement of the joint Syrian-Palestinian military operation against the radical Islamists. "We call for resorting to other means to spare the blood of our people and prevent more destruction and displacement for the Palestinians in al-Yarmouk Refugee Camp," it read. "We refuse to be drawn into any armed campaign."

Another PLO official, Wasel Abu Yousef, said that the Syrian regime may destroy the encampment by bombing the site behind the claim of attacking ISIS, as eyewitnesses revealed to Newsweek yesterday that the regime had barrel-bombed the camp's main hospital.

We know that if the [Syrian] army, with its planes and tanks, would interfere, this would mean the complete destruction of the camp," Yousef told the Associated Press.

Former residents of Yarmouk have also expressed their fears at the prospect of a joint military operation within the camp. Salim Salamah, a Syrian refugee who spent 22 years in Yarmouk until late 2012 and is now head of the Palestinian League for Human Rights in Syria, told Newsweek yesterday that such an operation is "very scary" as it would "mean nothing but a higher death toll and more people trapped in their houses for extra days without water and food."

Yarmouk was constructed during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war for Palestinian refugees fleeing the violence. In June last year, Syrian rebels battling president Bashar al-Assad agreed a ceasefire deal which allowed the siege on the camp to be lifted and basic goods to be delivered. However, on Monday, the UN Security Council called for access to the camp because of the "grave situation" that remains in the camp with a lack of medical supplies, food and water.

In a statement released today, United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman Chris Gunness called on the international community to intervene to save the 16,000 civilians left within the encampment, warning: "The world community must not stand by as a silent witness to what the UN Secretary General has warned could be a massacre. Yarmouk is at the lower reaches of hell. It must not be allowed to descend further."

The camp, where the Syrian and Palestinian population has shrunk from 150,000 to approximately 16,000 during the four-year-long Syrian civil war, has witnessed clashes between ISIS and a Palestinian militia loyal to Hamas, Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis and a number of Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters.

Ahmed Majdalani nor a representative of his Palestinian Popular Struggle Front were immediately available for comment.