Belfast Telegraph

Palestinians and Christians fighting to stay neutral

By Robert Fisk

So, today, amid Aleppo's continuing torment, let us remember minorities. The Palestinians of Syria, more than half a million of them, and the 1.5 million Christians - the largest number of whom live in Aleppo - who are Syrian citizens and who now sit on the edge of the volcano.

Neither wish to 'collaborate' with Bashar al-Assad's regime. But remaining neutral, you end up with no friends at all.

Lessons to be learned. The half million Palestinian refugees in Lebanon fought on the Muslim-Leftist side in the 1975-90 civil war. They were rewarded with hatred, mass-murder and imprisonment in their own camp hovels.

Palestinian refugees in Kuwait supported Saddam's invasion in 1990; hundreds of thousands were evicted to Jordan in 1991. Palestinians housed in Iraq since 1948 were slaughtered or expelled by the Iraqi "resistance" after America's 2003 invasion.

So neutrality in Syria is the Palestinians' only hope of salvation, as another civil war engulfs them. Yet their camps are visited regularly by the Free Syrian Army. Fight for us, they are told. And their camps are infested with the Syrian government's muhabarrat. Fight for us, they are told.

Alas, two military Palestinian units, Saiqa and the Palestine Liberation Army, are under the direct control of the regime. Two months ago, 17 of these Syrian-trained PLA soldiers were assassinated. Then last month, in Damascus, another 17 PLA were murdered.

"Some say the Free Syrian Army killed them to warn them away from the regime," a middle-aged Palestinian cadre from the DFLP tells me. "Others claim the regime murdered them to warn them off the Free Syrian Army.

"All we can do is cling to our neutrality. And you have to remember that some Palestinians in the Syrian camps are themselves muhabarrat intelligence men for the Syrian government."

Most Palestinians in Syria are Sunni Muslims - like the majority of the Syrian population and most of the resistance.

The Christians are citizens of Syria whose religion certainly does not reflect a majority in any anti-Assad force. Bashar's stability is preferable to the ghastly unknowns of a post-Assad regime.

There are 47 churches and cathedrals in Aleppo. The Christians believe that Salafists fight amid the rebels. They are right.

When that famous born-again Christian George W Bush sent his legions into Iraq in 2003, the savage aftermath smashed the Iraqi Christians to pieces.

The Christian Coptic Pope Shenouda of Egypt supported Mubarak until just two days before the dictator's downfall; Egypt's Muslims remember this.

So what can the Christians of Syria do? When the Maronite patriarch of Lebanon, the uninspiring Bechara Rai, said after the start of the Syrian uprising that Bashar should be given "more time", he enraged Sunni Muslims.

I suppose we might turn to the old Christian advice of rendering unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's. But who, except Bashar for now, is the authority?

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