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Palestinians divided over Syria but unite against western intervention

Palestinians live in Gaza, Israel, the West Bank and refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. There is no single Palestinian view about the Assad regime or the revolt against it and no single impact of the Syrian civil war on Palestinians – except to increase the number of refugees. The pieces in this posting take up different aspects of the Palestinian-Syrian relationship.

1) Ma’an news: Fatah official: Military action in Syria only serves Israel;
2) JPost: Rival Palestinian factions Hamas, Fatah unite against Western attack on Syria;
3) Electronic Intifada: Refugee camps in civil war photo caption after bombing of Yarmouk camp;
4) AP: Syrian forces launch offensive on Palestinian camp, July 26;
5) Counterpunch: Fear Spreads Through Palestinian Camps In Syria, August 23;
6) Amnesty:‘A dog has more freedom’ – Palestinians at Cyber City camp for refugees from Syria, July 2013;
7) Economist: The difficulty of picking sides, the best overview of Palestinian responses to the Syrian revolt, May 2013;
8 – Reuters: Hamas ditches Assad, backs Syrian revolt, February 2012 report on the big break;


Palestinians hold Syrian and Palestinian flags during a march in support of the Syrian regime in the West Bank city of Nablus, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013.  Although Hamas, in particular, had criticised Assad’s regime and many Palestinians have been killed or injured by regime bombings in refugee camps in Syria, the threat of a Western attack has meant, for the moment at least, the pro-Assad voices dominate. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/AP.



Fatah official: Military action in Syria only serves Israel

By Ma’an news
August 28, 2013

RAMALLAH — Senior Fatah official Abbas Zaki said Wednesday that military action against Syria targets all Arabs and only serves the interests of Israel.

“Despite our opposition to using chemical weapons by groups that want to create excuses to destroy Syria, we are sure that the West will use this as an excuse to intervene in Syrian affairs,” Zaki told Ma’an.

Syria can play a pivotal role in regional security and leaders must end the crisis through peaceful means, he said.

The Fatah central committee member also accused the United States of a double standard policy towards Israel, which used white phosphorus in civilian areas during the 2008-2009 war on Gaza.

Zaki stressed the categorical rejection of any military campaign in Syria, warning of a detrimental impact on security in the Arab world.

The United States and its allies have pressed their case for likely military action against President Bashar Assad’s regime, despite stern warnings against intervention from Damascus’ key allies Russia and Iran.



Rival Palestinian factions Hamas, Fatah unite against Western attack on Syria

By Khaled Abu Toameh, JPost
August 29, 2013

The Palestinians are opposed to any military intervention in the Syrian conflict, representatives of various factions, including Fatah and Hamas, announced on Thursday.

The factions said in separate statements that a military strike in Syria would be harmful to all Arabs and would only benefit Israel.

Abbas Zaki, a top Fatah official, said that his faction was strongly against Western intervention.

He warned that such a move would harm Arab national security.

“Targeting Syria would mean targeting all Arabs,” Zaki cautioned. “This would only benefit Israel.”

He said that although he had no doubt that chemical weapons had been used in Syria, “the West is using this as an excuse to meddle in Syria’s internal affairs.”

Accusing the United States of employing a double-standard policy in the Middle East, the Fatah official asked where American and other Western aircraft carriers were “when Israel used phosphorous weapons during its aggression against the Gaza Strip in 2008 and 2009.”

Although Fatah has officially avoided taking sides in the Syrian conflict, relations between it and the Syrian government have been tense over the past two years, with some leaders condemning the Syrian regime for killing innocent civilians.

The Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank has avoided taking a public stance on Syria and the possible Western military strike.

Hamas has voiced opposition to a military attack.

Syria had expelled Hamas leaders from the country following their refusal to support the regime of President Bashar Assad against the rebels.

Hamas leaders have since come out openly in support of the anti-Assad forces, accusing the Syrian president of perpetrating massacres against his own people.

Still, Hamas spokesman Salah Bardaweel on Thursday said that his movement was opposed to Western military intervention in Syria.

“The Americans do not want the good of Syria or the Syrian people,” he charged. “The Americans only want to serve American and Israeli interests.”

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad also expressed opposition.

Both warned that the West was seeking to divide Syria into several enclaves to weaken “resistance” against Israel.

Palestinian columnist Talal Okal said that a US-led military strike against Syria would “plunge the region towards huge unrest and anarchy.”

Writing in the PA’s official Al- Ayyam newspaper, Okal complained about US and Western double standards in dealing with the Middle East. He said that the US and Western countries did not take action when Israel used “internationally banned weapons” against Palestinians.



Refugee camps in civil war

The damage in Yarmouk refugee camp after Syrian army bombing, July 24th 2013. At least 28 Palestinian refugees were killed in Syria during July as refugee camps in the country continue to be dragged into the country’s civil war. The UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, estimates that the homes of 44,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria have been damaged by conflict, and that half of the approximately 500,000 Palestinian refugees in the country are now displaced either in Syria or in neighboring countries. According to UNRWA statistics, there are more than 8,300 Palestinian refugees who have fled Syria to Jordan and 92,000 who have fled to Lebanon, where UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees lack basic civil rights and suffer poor living conditions.

An UNRWA staff member was killed in Syria in July, the seventh to have been killed in the conflict; 13 of the agency’s staff are detained or have been reported missing. Electronic Intifada, August 5th, 2013. Photo by Ward Al-Keswani, Reuters.



Syrian forces launch offensive on Palestinian camp

Pro-government group says it is cleansing terrorists from rebel-held Yarmouk camp in Damascus

By AP/Times of Israel
July 26, 2013

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Pro-government gunmen advanced in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus on Friday, officials said.

Fighting in the camp broke out earlier this week. It has been mostly under rebel control since late last year.

Anwar Raja, a spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, said Friday the Palestinian Popular Committees want to “cleanse” the camp of “terrorist gangs.”

The PFLP-GC is close the Syrian government.

Khaled Abdul-Majid of the Popular Struggle Front, another pro-government faction, said Popular Committees have captured nearly a third of the mostly empty camp. Thousands of refugees have fled.

Earlier in the week, a Turkey-based opposition group said 22 people in the camp had been killed in a chemical attack. The report was never confirmed.

Since the start of the unrest, Syria’s half-million Palestinians have struggled to remain on the sidelines.

Still, some young Palestinian refugees have joined the rebels in the fight against President Bashar Assad’s regime.



Fear Spreads Through Palestinian Camps In Syria

By Franklin Lamb, Counterpunch
August 23, 2013

Yarmouk Palestinian camp, Damascus: Close to 50,000 children from Yarmouk Palestinian camp in Syria have fled Syria, being among the more than one million other children according to Palestinian Popular Committees in the Damascus-Homs area and head of U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, Anthony Lake, said in a statement. Roughly 75% of the Palestinian youngsters fleeing Syria are under the age of 11. They make up a large portion of the UNHCR refugees population that has now exceeded one million who have fled Syria and the two million children who are internally displaced,. than two million children have been driven from their homes in the face of the conflict, which has morphed into a vicious, sectarian civil war.


Tadamon refugee camp for Palestinians in Lebanon, photo taken 2006. The refugees are entirely dependent on international aid as they are not allowed to work or take Lebanese citizenship.

Problem for Palestinians fleeing Syria continue at the Syria-Lebanon Masnaa crossing, adding to the number of Palestinian children who are homeless and without encouraging prospects of finding shelter or school enrollment, as classes begin next month. Approximately 8000 children, younger than fifteen, have been killed so far in the 30 month civil conflict in Syria.

Palestinian Popular Committee in al-Yarmouk Camp as well as the other twelve camps (two “unofficial” ) have reported both directly and indirectly to this observer that they posess information that clearly suggests the possibility, indeed probability, of a terrorist use of chemical weapons in the Camp, calling the Palestinian factions to take preemptive steps to prevent that.

The Popular Committee inside the “free” area of Yarmouk, pockets inside the eastern edge of the camp, advised in a statement, “in the framework of agitating the political and media war against the government of Syria, channels of destruction and sedition have started to air misleading propaganda, claiming that the Syrian Arab Army would fire mortars and or missiles into the Camp with chemical gases, whereas these elements themselves are planning chemical attacks to blame the government much as what happened in Irbin.”


Palestinian refugees from the Yarmouk camp in Damascus protest in front of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) offices in the Cola district of Beirut, to demand urgently-needed assistance, December 2012. Photos Anwar Amro/AFP

The Committee added “those who invaded and destroyed the Camp after having displaced its residents would not hesitate to use the meanest ways of killing and destruction to fulfill the U.S.-Zionist goals.”

The statement, the first draft being written by advisers to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,-GC, led by Ahmed Jabril, a staunch supporter of Syria’s President Bashar Assad.

It is the PFLP-GC, which was rocketed by Israel on 8/22/13 in the area of An official with the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) a missile hit said the missile struck just meters from the entrance to one of a series of underground tunnels belonging to the PFLP-GC in the valley. a valley in Naameh, an area 15 kilometers south of Beirut, where the Palestinian group maintains a military base.

Israel said the attack was in retaliation for Thursday’s rocket attack from Lebanon into the Jewish state and it was launched just two weeks after a blast wounded four Israeli soldiers in Lebanon off the border town of Labbouneh, which Hezbollah has claimed responsibility for.

An official with the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) a missile hit said the missile struck just meters from the entrance to one of a series of underground tunnels belonging to the PFLP-GC in the valley. a valley in Naameh, an area 15 kilometers south of Beirut, where the Palestinian group maintains a military base.

Israel said the attack was in retaliation for Thursday’s four rocket attack from Lebanon into occupied Palestine. The PFLP-GC source denied immediately denied that there was a link between the early morning air raid in Naameh and the rocket attack on Israel the day before.

Palestinian camp officials, as with various medical groups are growing frustrated with the lack of U.N. activity from chief inspector Ake Sellstrom and his delegation who are spending time in their 5-star hotel lobby and swimming pool which is only a few kilometers from Ghouta Yarmouk and the nearby attack area. “|What are they waiting for?” Is a commonly expressed derisive sentiment heard this morning near the alleged CW use site at Irbid. “One Palestinian youngster told this observer, “They can give me their equipment and I will gather evidence for them if they are too busy.” Residents in the Damascus surburbs and Yarmouk, seem to be relieved that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has just urged the Syrian government to allow in the UN inspectors without delay to thoroughly investigate this crime.

Palestinian sentiment expressed to this observer by refugees in Damascus and Homs, on the subject this crime against humanity, appears to agree with the Syrian government position that allegations of Syrian military involvement are probably false and often point to the illogical timing of the attack, just days after the arrival of the inspectors, as evidence that they were probably not responsible.

This initial tentative conclusion could change. Near Irbid, one now hears estimates of more than 1,500 killed with more and more victims being discovered. At press time, he Unified Medical Bureau for Eastern Gouta, is citing even higher figures. One Palestinian member of Yarmouks Popular Committee, whose family village in near Safad, pointed to the location of the attacks, being rebel strongholds in the Ghouta agricultural belt east of Damascus and the areas of Irbin, Jobar, Zamalka and Ain Tarma as well as the town of Muadhamiya which is maybe five miles south.

One reason the casualties figures are so high people from the gassed areas explain, is due to lack of air conditioning, most residents in this area sleep with their windows opened and victims died in their beds during the early morning attack.

As of early morning 8/23/13, many of the remaining Palestinians in Yarmouk are seeking somewhere to flee to, visibly afraid that chemical weapons will be used in Yarmouk in the coming days.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon and can be reached c/o fplamb@gmail.com




Cyber City refugee camp, Jordan. Palestinians fleeing Syria have been turned back at the Lebanese border and forced to return to Syria; those who make it to Jordan are placed in camps separate from other refugees.

‘A dog has more freedom’ – Palestinians at Cyber City camp for refugees from Syria

By Neil Sammonds, Syria Researcher at Amnesty International
July 29, 2013

Cyber City is an unusual camp beside a desolate crossroads outside Irbid, in northern Jordan. Hidden behind a wall and some pine trees, a dreary six-floor block looks out over rusting machinery and a dry plain. Formerly for migrant workers, it now hosts around 500 refugees from Syria.

After passing security checks I bump into Abu Alaa, a dignified 60-year-old refugee whose two sons are missing in Syria. “No news still,” he sighs, holding my hand warmly. “I was just calling again.” His phone shows repeated unanswered calls to numbers back home. He says his two grown-up sons had tried following him into Jordan but were refused entry due to their Palestinian origin. On separate occasions over the coming months, each appears to have been detained by the Syrian security forces and Abu Alaa fears they may not be alive.

Palestinians have been heavily affected by the violence in Syria. Almost half of the 500,000 or so Palestinian refugees in Syria have been displaced. Refugee camps and other areas in which they live, including Dera’a Camp, and Yarmouk and Sayida Zaynab in Damascus, have witnessed heavy fighting. Some 6,000 residents were forced out of Ein al-Tal Camp in Aleppo in April 2013. Sbeineh Camp in Damascus was reportedly hit by a ground-to-ground missile in May 2013, killing at least five people. Two children and two women were among at least five others killed by mortar shells fired into Khan Eshieh Camp near Damascus in June 2013.

Yet Abu Alaa’s sons are among hundreds if not thousands of Palestinian refugees fleeing the violence in Syria who are believed to have been turned away at the Jordanian border, in violation of international law. While Jordan is hosting around half a million people from Syria, it is generally not allowing access to Palestinian or Iraqi refugees, men travelling alone or people without documents. Given the widespread human rights abuses and violence in Syria, everyone fleeing the conflict should be allowed to seek safety, without discrimination.

Of some 7,000 or more Palestinians who did manage to enter Jordan, either before the country denied all access to them early last year or as a result of using false documents, some were later forced back to the border, also in violation of international law.

Refugee camp on Lebanon-Syria border; neither Jordan nor Lebanon, both of which aready house thousands of Palestinian refugees, wants to allow more to enter as they join the Syrians fleeing the fighting.

Bilal, who entered Jordan ahead of other family members, tells me his father and brothers were detained in Amman and escorted to the border in December 2012. “One night my elder brother rang and told me they had been taken there at gunpoint. My younger brother had been pulled by his hair and forced into the security vehicle that took them there. They waited three days just 100 metres beyond the Jordan border post, with fighting nearby, hoping to be allowed back, until my elder brother was injured and they realized the only option was to seek aid inside Syria.”

A worse fate befell Mahmud Merjan, who Cyber City residents say was killed on a Syrian street in late 2012, three weeks after being forced to sign a “voluntary” paper that he would go back to Syria. “It wasn’t an arbitrary killing,” says one man who knew him well. “He was known and wanted by the regime.”

Sources say there have been attempts to return scores of Palestinians from Syria to the border. International interventions are said to have blocked some of the attempts. Residents of Cyber City tell me that on three occasions relatives have gone onto its roof and threatened to throw themselves off, in apparently successful attempts to stall other cases of refoulement.

All those in Cyber City have fled from Syria. But while the Palestinians from Syria used to be the majority, I am told, their numbers have dwindled as many got fed up with conditions and returned to the conflict zone. “I prefer to go back and die in Syria with some dignity rather than live without it here,” many say.

Complaints about the conditions here are many. Palestinians are not officially permitted to leave Cyber City. Now and again informal permission is granted to visit relatives in Irbid and Amman and so on, but mostly they are confined to the building and the immediate vicinity. Such conditions amount to arbitrary detention. “I’m sorry, but a dog can come and go more easily than we can,” says a very frustrated Ali, who has been here for more than a year.

The closed border to Palestinians and the arbitrary detention of Palestinians is further dividing families, whose identities reflect decades of turmoil and flight. Sena, a Syrian woman, is here with her children while her Palestinian husband is unable to enter Jordan. Ziad is in Cyber City while his Syrian wife and children are in a Jordanian town. Elderly Abu Khaled has to stay here while family members holding Jordanian nationality do not.

While Syrians and Palestinians from Syria appreciate being in safety in Jordan, they struggle to make ends meet. Individuals are entitled to a monthly coupon worth 24 Jordanian dinars (about US$34) which they exchange for food in a small shop next to Cyber City. This works out as a mere 0.80 dinars per day, it is repeatedly pointed out. A 160g tin of tuna on the shop’s shelves costs more than that.

“It is 100 per cent worse for Palestinians here than for the Syrians,” says Ziad. “One, they are allowed to leave this place while we are not and, two, when they go out they can visit charitable organizations, show their UN refugee agency card” – which Palestinians do not have as they fall under the mandate of [the UN Relief and Works Agency] instead, although they should receive the same services – “and collect further relief.”

“Every day here is the same,” Bilal continues. “Eat, sleep, eat, sleep.” With others, he counts off the names of families who have decided to risk their lives to go back into Syria. “Yes, this is what the Jordanian government wants, for us to go back. But what is the alternative? We live without purpose here. This is not life.”

A friend of the deceased Mahmud Merjan summed up the despair: “It was one of our life’s dreams to visit Jordan, but we came and encountered such hate. Let’s hope there are no more refugee camps for Palestinians in heaven.”

NOTE: For security reasons some names have been changed.



The difficulty of picking sides

By N.P., The Economist
May 24, 2013

JERUSALEM–HAVING wrecked the lives of Syria’s half a million Palestinian residents, Syria’s civil war has begun prising apart Palestinians over the border in Israel and the Palestinian territories, too. In Syria, the war has displaced 235,000 Palestinians and killed hundreds more as they take up arms on both sides of the conflict. But it has also intensified fractures in the Palestinian leadership, as the two camps—the nationalist Fatah movement whose stronghold lies in the West Bank, and Hamas, the Islamist movement which rules Gaza—back opposing sides.

While Fatah warns against turning on President Bashar Assad’s regime, lest he follow the example of Kuwait’s emir in 1991 and expel his long-integrated Palestinian population in revenge, Hamas leaders say they cannot stand with a dictator’s slaughter of his people. While Fatah officials have supported the Syrian regime in evicting rebels from Palestinian camps south of Damascus, the capital, their Hamas rivals have closed their Damascus headquarters, and sent fighters to join the rebels. The Assad regime “took the wrong option—they were wrong about their vision toward the conflict,” Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’s leader, told Foreign Policy in mid-May, a year after abandoning his base in Syria.

The visit to Gaza earlier this month of Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, a Qatari-based Islamist cleric who has issued fatwas urging Muslims to join the armed uprising, only deepened the cleavage. Hamas police in the town of Khan Younis clubbed demonstrators waving portraits of Mr Assad, and arrested journalists covering the rally for al-Manar, the television station of Hizbullah, the Shia Lebanese party-cum-militia and a one-time Hamas ally which backs the Syrians regime.

Meanwhile, Assad supporters interrupted Easter celebrations in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, chanting their support of “God, Syria and Bashar alone”. As in Lebanon, many Palestinian Christians see Mr Assad as a protector of minorities, and share his fear of an ascendant Sunni majority which has precipitated a Christian flight in other parts of the Middle East.

Old loyalties die hard. Some Palestinians still look to Assad’s Syria as the region’s last bastion of secular Arab nationalism, and deem the rebellion a conspiracy cooked up by Gulf and Western powers. Sometimes the rift courses through families, pitting pro-Assad patriarchs against their revolutionary sons. Assad supporters also disrupted coverage of a rally marking the naqba, or Palestinian exodus in 1948, by Al Jazeera, the Qatari-owned television channel which has backed Syria’s armed uprising.

Surveys reveal the depth of the divide. According to a poll by the University of Haifa, Israel’s third-biggest city, more than one in four Arab-Israelis support the Assad regime, but confusion abounds. Some, like Azmi Bishara, a prominent Christian politician who fled Israel in 2007 amid allegations of espionage, have turned from defending to deploring Mr Assad; liberals have retracted initial support for the rebels, shocked by their Islamist radicalism and violence.

Palestinian supporters of the Syrian regime have called up talk-shows like Kalam Mubasher (Straight Talking) on Al-Shams, an Arabic radio station, to denounce rebels as stooges of al-Qaeda. “Shabiha,” replies the host accusingly, referring to them as members of Mr Assad’s militia. But such outspoken denunciation of Assad supporters is increasingly rare. Politicians avoid debating the issue in public, not least because many of the older leadership, particularly in the communist party, Hadash, appear to harbour sympathies for Mr Assad.

“Supporters of the revolution are very quiet, especially given that so many have been killed,” says Asad Ghanem, the Haifa University academic who conducted the poll. “Palestinians in Israel say they want more democracy in Israel so they should want more in Syria as well. But there’s no real action,” he laments. “Instead they just call the revolutionaries terrorists.”



Hamas ditches Assad, backs Syrian revolt

By Omar Fahmy and Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters
February 24, 2012

CAIRO/GAZA- Leaders of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas turned publicly against their long-time ally President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Friday, endorsing the revolt aimed at overthrowing his dynastic rule.

The policy shift deprives Assad of one of his few remaining Sunni Muslim supporters in the Arab world and deepens his international isolation. It was announced in Hamas speeches at Friday prayers in Cairo and a rally in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas went public after nearly a year of equivocating as Assad’s army, largely led by fellow members of the president’s Alawite sect, has crushed mainly Sunni protesters and rebels.

In a Middle East split along sectarian lines between Shi’ite and Sunni Islam, the public abandonment of Assad casts immediate questions over Hamas’s future ties with its principal backer Iran, which has stuck by its ally Assad, as well as with Iran’s fellow Shi’ite allies in Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.

“I salute all the nations of the Arab Spring and I salute the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, visiting Egypt from the Gaza Strip, told thousands of Friday worshippers at Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque.

“We are marching towards Syria, with millions of martyrs,” chanted worshippers at al-Azhar, home to one of the Sunni world’s highest seats of learning. “No Hezbollah and no Iran. The Syrian revolution is an Arab revolution.”

Contemporary political rivalries have exacerbated tensions that date back centuries between Sunnis – the vast majority of Arabs – and Shi’ites, who form substantial Arab populations, notably in Lebanon and Iraq, and who dominate in non-Arab Iran.

Hamas and Hezbollah, confronting Israel on its southwestern and northern borders, have long had a strategic alliance against the Jewish state, despite opposing positions on the sectarian divide. Both have fought wars with Israel in the past six years.

But as the Sunni-Shi’ite split in the Middle East deepens, Hamas appears to have cast its lot with the powerful, Egypt-based Sunni Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose star has been in the ascendant since the Arab Spring revolts last year.

HAMAS MAKES ITS CHOICE

“This is considered a big step in the direction of cutting ties with Syria,” said Hany al-Masri, a Palestinian political commentator. Damascus might now opt to formally expel Hamas’s exile headquarters from Syria, he told Reuters.

Banned by deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood has moved to the centre of public life. It is the ideological parent of Hamas, which was founded 25 years ago among the Palestinians, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims.

Shi’ite Hezbollah still supports the Assad family, from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, which has maintained authoritarian rule over Syria’s Sunni majority for four decades but now may have its back to the wall.

Hamas, however, has been deeply embarrassed among Palestinians by its association with Assad, as the death toll in his crackdown on opponents has risen into the thousands.

In Gaza, senior Hamas member Salah al-Bardaweel addressed thousands of supporters at a rally in Khan Younis refugee camp, sending “a message to the peoples who have not been liberated yet, those free peoples who are still bleeding every day.”

“The hearts of the Palestinian people bleed with every drop of bloodshed in Syria,” Bardaweel said. “No political considerations will make us turn a blind eye to what is happening on the soil of Syria.”

ANTI-ISRAEL AXIS WEAKENED

The divorce between Hamas and Damascus had been coming for months. The Palestinian group had angered Assad last year when it refused a request to hold public rallies in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria in support of his government.

Hamas’s exile political leader Khaled Meshaal and his associates quietly quit their headquarters in Damascus and have stayed away from Syria for months now, although Hamas tried to deny their absence had anything to do with the revolt.

Haniyeh visited Iran earlier this month on a mission to shore up ties with the power that has provided Hamas with money and weapons to fight Israel. It is not clear what the outcome of his visit has been, though the tone of the latest Hamas comments is hardly compatible with continued warm relations with Tehran.

Rallies in favor of Syria’s Sunni majority have been rare in the coastal enclave but on Friday it seemed the Islamist rulers of the territory had decided to break the silence.

“Nations do not get defeated. They do not retreat and they do not get broken. We are on your side and on the side of all free peoples,” said Bardaweel.

“God is Greatest,” the crowd chanted. “Victory to the people of Syria.”

Hamas-Hezbollah relations have been good in the past. But Hamas did not attack Israel when it was fighting Hezbollah in 2006 and Hezbollah did not join in when Israel mounted a major offensive against Hamas in Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009.

Anything that divides Hamas and Hezbollah is likely to be welcomed by Israel, which has been watching warily recent moves by Hamas to reconcile differences with its Palestinian rivals in Fatah, the movement of President Mahmoud Abbas.

There was no immediate Israeli comment on Friday’s speeches.

Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Cairo

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