When US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Israel and Ramallah next week, he will find the Palestinians sidestepping the peace negotiations he initiated with Israel and striking out on their own behind everyone’s backs on a key element of the dispute: The Palestinian refugees’ “rights” to return to their homes in pre-1948 Israel.
DEBKA Weekly’s Middle East sources reveal that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has broken away from the talks to collude with Bashar Assad and Hamas on a secret resettlement program for the transfer of half a million Palestinians from war-torn Syria to the Gaza Strip,
Taking advantage of Israel’s preoccupation with the Iranian issue, Abbas, the Assad regime and Hamas’s prime minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, have in the last two weeks moved around a thousand Palestinian refugees from Syria into the Gaza Strip through Egypt.
The Haniyeh administration is providing them with accommodation, work, medical services and schooling; the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, the funding.
Israel has flatly and consistently opposed recognition of the Palestinian refugees’ “right of return” as a maneuver for swamping the Jewish state to extinction by a Palestinian majority.
The refugee transfer is part of a wider cooperation accord the Palestinian leader reached with the Syrian ruler and revealed exclusively by debkafile on Oct. 23. Abbas pledged then that Palestinian fighters would withdraw from Syrian rebel ranks, lay down their arms and stop confronting the Syrian president and his army.
Assad, for his part, agreed to pull his troops out of Palestinian refugee camps in Damascus and Latakiya and provide them with armed protection.
He also promised to release Palestinian inmates from Syrian prisons.
Without Washington’s knowledge, Abbas made himself the first Arab leader to agree to deal with the Syrian ruler.
Wholesale Palestinian migration from Syria has begun
Our intelligence sources now report that the Abbas-Assad deal was a package which also covered the refugee issue. The Syrian ruler acceded to the Palestinian leader’s request to allow Palestinians resident in Syria to leave the country through Lebanon, provided their final destination was the Gaza Strip.
From Lebanon, they are transferred to Egypt, where the authorities, happy to see the back of them, wave them straight through to the Gaza Strip.
At the start of the operation, only small batches of Palestinians embarked on this journey so as not to attract Israeli notice and possible interference. But when nothing happened, the numbers were boosted and thousands of Palestinian refugees are now on their way from Syria to the Gaza Strip.
The secret operation is organized by a special Palestinian Authority command center.
Israeli security sources are worried that this wholesale migration could become a destabilizing factor in the Gaza Strip and also cloak the infiltration of Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah secret agents and terrorist operatives into the Gaza Strip to spy on Israel and develop terrorist attacks.
Sunday, Nov. 24, an expanded IDF division carried out a large-scale maneuver in the South simulating the capture of Gaza City, capital of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian regime.
It was conducted from Sunday to Wednesday under the command of Brig.-Gen Micky Edelstein on orders from Chief of Staff Gen. Benny Gantz.
Conscripts fanned out through the Israeli coastal town of Ashkelon and its environs to simulate the capture of Gaza City and surrounding villages. It was the first time Israeli armed forces had ever carried out a mock exercise for taking Gaza City.