HAIFA, Israel – Palestinian leaders, who court international sympathy by portraying their people as displaced victims of Israel, are refusing to help tens of thousands of their brethren who have been routed from homes and refugee camps in neighboring Syria.
Leaders of both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have rebuffed the United Nations Relief and Works Agency's requests for help stemming the mushrooming humanitarian crisis brought on by Syria's bloody civil war. Their refusal to help leaves some 150,000 Syrian Palestinians homeless and facing freezing temperatures, missiles, bombs and food shortages.
“[The UNRWA is] the only one taking care of the refugees in Syria, but that’s not just now," Dr. Benedetta Berti, an international policy and security consultant and expert on Middle East affairs, told FoxNews.com. "The Palestinians have always deferred to the international community to provide for them (the refugees) so this is just business as usual."
“[The UN is] the only one taking care of the refugees in Syria."
- Benedetta Berti, expert on Middle East affairs and policy
Hamas Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh reportedly believes that seeking safe haven for Palestinians trapped in Syria could undermine his argument for a Palestinian ‘right of return’ to what they deem occupied Palestine -- the State of Israel. The same rationale appears be one of the contributing factors to a similar lack of action from Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in December called on Damascus’ neighbors, including Israel, to open their borders to Palestinian refugees. Turkey and Jordan have taken in thousands. Israel would have to facilitate any effort by Palestinian leaders to absorb refugees into the Palestinian Authority's West Bank or the Hamas-controlled Gaza because Israel controls the borders with Syria and with Jordan. So far, Israel has apparently not been asked.
“To our knowledge no official request has been made by Palestinians,” a representative of Badil, a Palestinian rights advocate, acknowledged to FoxNews.com.
"No one has approached us officially,” confirmed Ilana Stein, deputy spokesperson at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The apparent unwillingness to lift a finger behind the scenes for fellow Palestinians in need is at odds with the Palestinians' public stance. Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, in a Dec. 19, 2012, letter to the UN Security Council, urged the world to help the Syrian refugees.
“The growing impact of this crisis on their (the refugees) human security and on the stability of the refugee camps has become of grave concern and compels me, on behalf of the Palestinian leadership, to call for the urgent attention of the international community to this matter,” Mansour wrote.
Stein said Israel stands ready to help the Syrian refugees even though its only remaining option is to facilitiate aid through NGO's.
“A few months ago Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered to send humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, asking if it would be accepted through the Red Cross," Stein said. "The Red Cross contacted Syrian opposition representatives, but they said they didn’t want it.”
Turkey and Jordan have reached out and offered help and temporary asylum to thousands of Syrian refugees, but bureaucracy, red tape, and the internal politics of other neighboring states, most notably Lebanon, has proved frustrating.
Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper reported that many Palestinian refugees are being denied access to the country almost certainly as a direct result of the intervention of the powerful Lebanese-based militia Hezbollah, (backed by Iran and Syria), whose grip on the country sees them wielding most power in the Lebanese government. Hezbollah has admitted sending fighters to join forces with Syrian President Assad’s brutal regime.
According to the Daily Star, Lebanon is officially insisting that any Palestinian refugee wanting to cross their border to safety must pay a fee of 25,000 Lebanese pounds, the equivalent of $16 per person for a 14-day visa. The fee doubles to extend the duration. That sum might seem a small price to pay to escape a war zone, but for those Palestinians who have fled with little or no money and few if any belongings, it is more than most are able to come up with and places their lives in imminent danger.
Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist who blogs at www.paulalster.com and can be followed on Twitter @paulalster