Did Russian Secret Service Pull Strings for Palestinian Deal with Bashar Assad?
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazen this week signed a secret cooperation agreement with President Bashar Assad, as debkafile first revealed exclusively Wednesday night Oct. 23.
He broke ranks with the united Arab front boycotting Assad to become the first Arab leader to do business with the Syrian ruler and offer to withdraw the Arab minority he spoke for, i.e., the Palestinians, from the revolt against him.
Abu Mazen signed a deal pledging that the Palestinians fighting with the Syrian rebels would lay down their arms and solemnly renounce all opposition to the Assad regime and Syrian army.
This landmark event is likely to have a pivotal impact on US and Russian efforts to get Geneva II underway next month for a political resolution of the Syrian conflict.
It may less directly affect the final negotiations on the drafting by the US, Russia and Iran, of an accord to resolve their nuclear controversy.
(See a separate article)
What caused Abbas to step forward as the first Middle East figure willing to deal with the Syrian ruler? According to one theory offered Thursday, Oct. 24, by some Middle East intelligence experts, it derives from the decades-long ties he has maintained with the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, ever since his youthful relations with the Soviet KGB.
Those experts suggest that Abu Mazen received a signal from the SVR last month that it was to his advantage to be the first Arab leader to engage with Bashar Assad. It would qualify him for a role in the backdoor partnerships Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin were developing for certain Middle East issues, including nuclear diplomacy with Tehran.
The Palestinian leader buys his way into Tehran’s graces too
Abbas was also advised by his old SVR mates that establishing a rapport with Assad would help his Fatah faction win the place of honor enjoyed by his Hamas rivals in pre-war Damascus and block their path to reconciliation with the Syrian ruler.
Tehran, moreover, would be more inclined to approve and assist a potential Palestinian-Israeli peace accord.
And indeed, this week, a large Hamas delegation was turned away when it knocked on Tehran’s door for another attempt to renew ties and obtain an invitation for Hamas Political Secretary Khaled Meshal to visit the Iranian capital.
Our sources are pretty sure that neither President Obama nor Secretary of State John Kerry, who is driving hard for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, was in on Abu Mazen’s deal with the Syrian ruler.
On the other hand, while Secretary Kerry, who is not privy to all the specifics of the deepening collaboration between Obama and Putin, may not have been in the picture, the White House or a part thereof may have had an inkling that something of this sort was in the works.
The first move was taken by the Palestinian Authority Chairman in the last week of September. In his speech to the UN General Assembly, he stated – apparently on a cue from Moscow – that the Palestinian people were against a US military attack on Syria.
Assad picks up the hint in Abu Mazen’s UN speech
This comment caught the notice of the Syrian president. He thereupon asked the Great Mufti of Syria Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, a Sunni cleric and Assad loyalist, to phone Abu Mazen in Ramallah and thank him on Assad’s behalf for his speech at the UN.
During that phone conversation, Abu Mazen complained about the hard straits of the 600,000 Palestinians dwelling in five refugee camps in Syria. The largest is the Yarmouk camp in Damascus.
Abbas and the Great Mufti agreed that the PA chairman should send a personal emissary to Damascus to see President Assad and appeal for better conditions to be granted Syria’s Palestinian community.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources identify the emissary chosen as Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon Abbas Zaki.
He traveled from Beirut to Damascus on Thursday Oct. 17 and was received by President Assad last weekend.
In response to the appeal the ambassador forwarded from Abbas, the Syrian ruler appointed one of his most influential security officers and trusted aides, Gen. Ali Mamlouk, to deal with the Palestinian issue. After taking Abbas Zaki on a tour of the five Palestinian refugee camps, Gen. Mamlouk and his Palestinian guest drafted the following four-part document:
The Syrian ruler takes the Palestinians under his protection
1. President Assad agrees that all the Palestinians bearing Syrian ID cards or travel permits, who fled to other parts of the Middle East during the civil war – an estimated 400,000 to half a million in all – may return to Syria, provided they were not involved in military or civilian rebel activity.
2. The Syrian army will stop shooting into Palestinian camps, especially Yarmouk.
Assad is quoted by our sources as maintaining that Syrian troops only shoot at Palestinian targets when they come under fire from the camps themselves.
His concession makes the Palestinians the first national minority to conclude a ceasefire with the Syrian army.
3. The Damascus government extends a guarantee of protection to the Palestinians of Syria.
4. Syrian intelligence and security authorities are holding thousands of Palestinians suspected of collaboration with the rebels. Assad pledged that confirmed collaborators will be brought to trial in a timely manner. The detainees cleared of suspicion under interrogation or intelligence will be set free under the aegis of the Syrian-Palestinian committees to be established for this purpose.
Ambassador Zaki takes document signed by Assad to Ramallah
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources say that these four provisions set at least three key precedents for the Geneva II summit – if this event indeed takes off on Nov. 23 as planned.
a) It has established a prototype for the handling of prisoners from national, ethnic and religious groups fighting with the Syrian rebels.
b) Assad has proven willing to guarantee the security and protection of rebel groups which agree to conclude similar accords with him.
c). He has allowed the first mass operation to repatriate large groups of Syrian refugees sheltering in Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and various Persian Gulf emirates.
Assad’s deal for the Palestinians gives him a powerful vehicle for asserting his legitimacy as Syrian president and supporting his campaign for reelection in mid-2014 as the only Syrian figure capable of accomplishing a), b) and c).
On Tuesday Oct. 21, President Assad and Ambassador Zaki signed the Syrian-Palestinian accord in Damascus. Zaki then flew to Amman, rendezvoused with Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour and a representative of Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan and briefed them on the accord.
That night, Prime Minister Ensour flew Ambassador Zaki aboard his private helicopter to Ramallah.
Abu Mazen then affixed his signature to the document.