The Palestinian refugee camp al-Neirab is undersiege

The Lebanese daily al-Akhbar published today a detailed report on the conditions in the Palestinian refugee camp of al-Neirab in North Eastern Syria. The Free Syrian army and a number of other militias opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Asad of Syria have been imposing a siege on the Palestinian refugee camp of al-Neirab near Aleppo for over two months. This is one of the smallest Palestinian refugee camps in Syria with a population of around 20 thousands. The Palestinian population of al-Neirab is considered to be one of the most educated among the Palestinian people with a rate of illiteracy below two percent. During the 1970’s, the principals of five out of the 11 secondary schools in Aleppo were from this Palestinian Refugee camp. Hundreds of the teachers in Aleppo and the surrounding villages also came from the Palestinian refugees of al-Neirab. This siege is making it extremely difficult for the inhabitants of the camp to obtain sufficient food supplies, fuel, baby’s milk, heating oil, and other necessities. The aim of the besiegers is to force the Palestinians in the camp to enter into the conflict on the side of the militias of the Syrian opposition.

Like most other Palestinian refugee communities in Syria, the people of al-Neirab tried to remain neutral in the ongoing Syrian Civil war. However, the various militias of the Syrian opposition have been trying to drag the Palestinian refugees into the conflict. This particular Palestinian refugee camp is of high strategic importance to the Free Syrian Army and its allies because the camp is located on the Southern flank of a Syrian airport. Controlling the camp would give the Syrian opposition a military advantage against the regular Syrian army defending the airport. Furthermore, involving the Palestinian refugees in the civil war against the forces of the regime would bring a harsh military response of the Syrian regular army units against the Palestinian refugee camps, and consequently the Syrian opposition would be able to use this in their propaganda against the regime. Casting the Syrian government as one committing crimes against the Palestinian refugees would undermine one of the most important pillars of the legitimacy of the regime who have been trying to present itself as the defender of Arab national dignity and the defender of Palestine and its people for several decades.

The Palestinian refugees in Syria have been very grateful to the Syrian people and to the Syrian regime for being generous hosts for more than sixty years. The conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Syria have been superior to the conditions of other Palestinian refugees in other Arab countries, especially those in Lebanon. The Syrian regime granted the Palestinian refugees full equality with the Syrian population without citizenship. They were given the right to work, the right to own property, the right to enroll in the Syrian public school system all the way through the institutions of higher education, and all health care benefits. This is not in any means meant to insinuate that the Palestinians in Syria are enjoying their freedom. Quite the contrary, they are just as equally oppressed by the regime as the rest of the Syrian population. No wonder then why the Palestinians of Syria prefer to remain neutral in a sectarian conflict fueled by the American and Western appetite for foreign intervention and the desire of the rich oil and gas producing conservative dictatorships in the Arabian gulf to settle old accounts with the Syrian regime.