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Abbas offers refuge to Palestinians fleeing Syrian war

RAMALLAH/BEIRUT: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday said he is ready to take in Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war.
Abbas said he has asked UN chief Ban Ki-moon to help in bringing the refugees to the Palestinian territories. This could include the West Bank, where Abbas governs, or the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The request was reported Wednesday by the official Wafa news agency amid fighting at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk outside the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Fighting has forced an exodus of Palestinian refugees and Syrians who came to the camp in past weeks to escape violence elsewhere in the city, according to United Nations officials.
Abbas said there are 450,000 Palestinian refugees living in 10 camps in Syria. Yarmouk, which is the biggest camp, “has been through a difficult situation due to the escalating conflict in Syria,” he said.
Any movement of refugees into the West Bank would need the consent of Israel.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry had no comment.
On Tuesday, Syrian fighter jets bombed Yarmouk for the second time in a week, sending thousands fleeing from the camp.
There were no reports on casualties from those strikes. Similar airstrikes on Sunday killed at least eight people in Yarmouk, activists said.
The rebel offensive in the camp, which began Friday, is aimed at driving out a pro-government Palestinian gunmen of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
Most of the fighting on Wednesday was concentrated on surrounding districts outside the camp, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. It said the rebels took control of large parts of the camp after resistance from the PFLP-GC gunmen ceased early Wednesday. The group relies on reports from activists on the ground.
When the revolt against Assad’s rule began 21 months ago, the half-million-strong Palestinian community in Syria stayed on the sidelines. But as the civil war deepened, most Palestinians backed the rebels, while some groups — such as the PFLP-GC— have been fighting alongside the troops. The group is led by Ahmed Jibril, Assad’s longtime ally.
On Wednesday, Syrian rebels said they made advances in the Palestinian refugee camp nearby where its fighters have been battling with a faction of refugees who were loyal to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
State media also reported that fierce fighting raged in the suburbs of the Syrian capital, Damascus, as government forces carried out a broad offensive against rebels.
The state-run SANA news agency said that troops have killed “scores of terrorists” — the government term for the rebels fighting to topple Assad.
SANA said Wednesday’s fighting was taking place in the capital’s southern outskirts of Daraya, Harasta, Douma and Hajar Aswad, a neighboring area of Yarmouk.

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