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January 14, 2013 9:32 am

Fear of Palestinian Exodus From Syria Ignites Concern in Lebanon and Jordan

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The Jafra Palestinian Youth Center at the Yarmouk Camp in Syria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The recent fighting in Damascus has led to fears of a mass Palestinian exodus from Syria to neighboring Lebanon and Jordan, generating concern amongst officials in those countries.

Palestinian officials say more than 90 percent of the 180,000 Palestinians they call refugees in the Yarmouk camp near Damascus have been displaced. Palestinians say Syria is home to an estimated 500,000 Palestinian refugees—a number that some consider to be inflated because the United Nations, breaking its typical policy, also considers the descendants of Arabs who fled Israel during the 1948 War of Independence to be refugees.

Arab leaders for decades have refused to resolve the status of their refugees in order to deflect criticism of their own failures and maintain pressure on Israel. As a result, many of Arab states have denied Palestinians basic rights such as health care, employment and services in order to distance themselves from the responsibility of the problem.

Jordan, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians and is one of the few Arab countries to give Palestinians citizenship, is denying entry to Palestinians while allowing Syrian refugees in.

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“Jordan is not a place for solving Israel’s problems, and there is a clear, sovereign Jordanian decision to deny entry to Palestinians,” Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Ensour told the Arab daily al-Hayat on Jan. 10, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In Lebanon, already home to more than half a million Palestinian “refugees,” officials worry that a further arrival of Palestinians would disrupt the country’s delicate sectarian balance.

Even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said he rejected a recent UN-brokered deal with Israel to allow Palestinian refugees from Syria into the West Bank and Gaza. He told journalists in Cairo that he would rather “they die in Syria than give up their right of return [to Israel],” the Associated Press reported.

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