Syria’s Palestinians are turning against longtime President Bashir al-Assad and will be a thorn in his side if his regime survives, according to a new report.
Foundation for the Defense of Democracies Research Director Jonathan Schanzer says in his article, “Why the Palestinians are Turning Against al-Assad,” that the Syrian leader has disillusioned his Palestinian supporters.
“Even if Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad somehow survives the current uprising aimed at toppling his regime, the beleaguered dictator will have a lingering identity problem,” he writes. “Indeed, a long-standing pillar of Syria’s foreign policy has been support to the Palestinian ‘resistance’ against Israel.”
However, he writes, “In the wake of the Syrian onslaught, the country’s estimated 500,000 Palestinians are abandoning – even challenging – their longtime champion. With this dramatic shift, al-Assad is left more isolated in the Middle East than ever before.”
The report is a follow-up to an earlier analysis that said the Palestinians in Syria may end up in the driver’s seat if Assad is toppled. The previous report noted Assad has brutalized his Palestinian population and has even attacked Palestinian refugee camps.
“Indeed, it is already clear that the Syrian conflict has placed Assad’s Palestinian clients into an untenable position. It’s hard for Palestinian groups to claim they are fighting for justice when their patron is in the midst of slaughtering its own people – 18,000 souls and counting – in cold blood,” Schanzer writes.
“That is why an ever growing number of Palestinians are now working to topple the regime that once supported them,” Schanzer writes. “But while the Assad regime has been willing to leverage the Palestinian cause on the international stage, those Palestinians living within Syrian borders have never been treated well. Palestinians in Syria are not allowed to vote or hold Syrian passports.”
The conclusion is that the Palestinians are choosing sides, and their choice isn’t to go with Syria. The reasons, Schanzer said, are many.
“In recent weeks, the violence against Palestinians has spiked. In one incident, Syrian forces bombed a hospital in Yarmouk refugee camp, reportedly because medics were treating the wounded from both sides,” he says. “This came on the heels of reports that Syrian forces opened fire on demonstrators in Yarmouk, killing four and injuring several others.”
However, that may be overstating the case, according to former Palestine Liberation Organization fighter Walid Shoebat. Shoebat says there are more powerful entities maneuvering Middle Eastern events.
“That would be an exaggeration, what holds Syria’s future is next door, Turkey, which is currently the superpower in the region, and the United States policy has left the Middle East to be policed by Turkey,” Shoebat said.
“When it comes to the Middle East, we should always start from top to bottom, the BIG dogs down to the underdogs. The Big Dog is Turkey (Sunni), then Iran (Shiite),” Shoebat said.
He said outside players also are going to steer the direction of the civil war.
“The outside interference of course comes from Russia, the U.S. and the E.U. Today the bone is gripped between two vicious rivals, Iran and Turkey. It is all about turning Syria from Shiite control to Sunni control. Americans forgot about sectarian feuds in Syria and years ago in [the] Lebanon civil war,” Shoebat said.
He also believes Iran is losing out in the Syrian conflict.
“Saber-rattling Iran is losing to the quite calculating Turkey which will soon emerge to cash in the entire Middle East. If you go to the Palestinian streets today you will find the Turkish flags flying all over,” Shoebat said.
“It is Neo-Ottoman and is purely Islamic. I have tons of footage from the Arabic sources to show you who really is fighting in Syria, it is al-Qaida and tons of its fresh duplicates who are freshly recruited to join the Islamist forces called Free Syrian Army,” Shoebat said.
“Americans by and large are naive when it comes to Syria. Syria is a bone of contention between Iran and Turkey, the bigger dog will gain it – Turkey,” Shoebat said.
One Palestinian faction supporting the Syrian regime, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, started in 1968 after Ahmed Jibril, the secretary general for the PFLP, broke with PFLP founder George Habash.
Jibril opposed Habash’s willingness to work through political and diplomatic channels, favoring only armed conflict.
Schanzer notes that PFLP-GC hasn’t hesitated to attack and kill fellow Palestinians.
“Famously, in June 2011, members of the PFLP-GC shot and killed 14 of their fellow Palestinians in Yarmouk. As one Palestinian in Syria told the New York Times, ‘Every Palestinian in Syria knows that the PFLP-GC’s fighters are working for the mukhabarat [intelligence] and running security patrols for the regime,’” Schanzer writes.
A Turkish jihad-supporting website confirms Schanzer’s claim and bolsters Shoebat’s observation that Turkey is now a potential king-maker in the Middle East.
The “Islamic Invitation Turkey” posted a report by Jibril in which he says support for Assad is “important.”
“World powers aim to provoke sectarian divide and separatism in region including Syria; supporting government and nation of Syria in the current situation can deter Zionist regime plots,” Jibril said.
He made the comments in a meeting with Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani in June. Jibril also praised the Iranian regime for being the only country to support the Palestinians.
Shoebat says that after reading one of Jibril’s messages in Arabic, Jibril is indeed supporting Assad.
“Ahmed Jibril of the PFLP is arming to fight against the Free Syria Army since the PFLP and its sister smaller faction, DFLP, are socialist and has always been a puppet of the Russians,” Shoebat said. “The PFLP is not Islamist and is neither Sunni nor Shia in its ideology. Of course it will side with the Syrian regime. But to say that they are the ‘key’ in holding Syria’s future is simply American naïveté.”