Palestinian refugees have lost all hope of returning to the Yarmouk refugee camp after the Syrian authorities revealed a plan that would radically change the conditions of the camp by building tall buildings and opening new roads, according to a report by the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. Pictured: Yarmouk refugee camp, near Damascus, on May 22, 2018, days after Syrian government forces regained control over the camp. (Photo by Louai Beshara/AFP via Getty Images)
As the world is busy combating the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Palestinians are continuing to "disappear" in Syrian prisons -- or otherwise die. Those in the international community expressing concern about the possible spread of the virus in the Gaza Strip are ignoring the existing tragedy of the Palestinians in Syria, particularly those held in various Syrian government-controlled prisons.
The international community also does not seem to care if a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria is about to be wiped off the face of the earth.
The reason the world does not care about the atrocities committed against Palestinians in Syria: they cannot blame Israel for them.
An Arab persecuting or torturing an Arab never seems to be condemned by the international community.
The following are some distressing figures released this week by the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria (AGPS), a London-based human rights watchdog organization that monitors the situation of Palestinian refugees in war-torn Syria.
Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, the number of Palestinians who have been killed there is now estimated at 4,042, according to the latest statistics released by AGPS. The names of the victims and details about the circumstances of their death are documented on the group's website.
The number of Palestinians languishing in Syrian prisons is 1,793, and another 332 have gone missing since 2011, AGPS disclosed.
While Palestinian Authority leaders have been urging Israel to release Palestinian prisoners out of fear they may be infected with coronavirus, these same leaders have left, without saying a word, hundreds of Palestinians held in Syrian jails.
AGPS, meanwhile, as a result of the outbreak of the virus, has renewed its call for the immediate release of Palestinians held in Syrian prisons out of concern for their safety and health.
The AGPS also drew the world's attention to the presence of more than 1,790 Palestinians of all ages held in harsh conditions in Syrian prisons and detention centers. In the view of the organization, the Syrian authorities are fully responsible for the lives of the Palestinian inmates and have urged them to provide medical care to those infected with the disease.
Another disturbing figure revealed by AGPS: In Syrian prisons during the past nine years, 37 Palestinian women were tortured to death. The women, according to AGPS, are among 620 Palestinians who have died in Syrian prisons after the eruption of the civil war there.
The group said it believes the real numbers are higher: the Syrian authorities are "reticent" to reveal the names and fates of Palestinian detainees and the families are reluctant to disclose their relatives' names for fear of retaliation.
The list of victims, according to the AGPS, includes political activists, volunteers, medics, engineers, academics, journalists, university students, and artists.
The Palestinian prisoners include 110 women and 50 children, who have been enduring unknown fates in Syrian prisons and detention centers. Toddlers clinging to their mothers' arms have also been spotted there, the group said.
Affidavits made by ex-detainees show that Palestinians have been subjected to harsh psychological and physical torture in Syrian prisons, including electric shocks, heavy beating using iron bars, and sexual abuse.
Taghreed Issat and her daughter Hadeel, for instance, have been missing since March 2013, when they were arrested at a Syrian military checkpoint near Yarmouk refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus. Hadeel was four years old at the time of their arrest.
"Such practices represent flagrant violations of international law which criminalizes all forms of torture and mistreatment against civilians," the group stated. "AGPS continues to urge the Syrian authorities to disclose the conditions and whereabouts of Palestinians held in its penitentiaries."
In yet another alarming figure, AGPS found that since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, 252 Palestinians under the age of 18 have died. Nearly half of the children were killed when their homes were shelled either by the Syrian army or its rival armed opposition groups; while several others were killed by snipers or in car-bomb explosions. Another 34 Palestinian minors died as a result of lack of food and medical treatment.
Meanwhile, Yarmouk refugee camp, five miles south of Damascus, is on its way to vanishing as a result of a plan by the Syrian authorities to build new towers and change the demographic conditions of the camp.
As of June 2002, there were 112,550 Palestinians living there; by mid-2018, only a few hundred remained. According to the UN, the place was "transformed into a death camp," with thousands of homes and a local hospital destroyed during the fighting.
Palestinian refugees have lost all hope of returning to Yarmouk after the Syrian authorities revealed a plan that would radically change the conditions of the camp by building tall buildings and opening new roads, according to a report by the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.
"The Palestinians have lived for decades in the camp and turned it into an important commercial center in Damascus," the newspaper noted. However, the war caused a catastrophe in the camp: hundreds of its inhabitants were killed or injured, most of its residents were displaced, and more than 60 percent of its buildings were damaged.
The new plan includes expanding the camp's main street to a width of 40 meters -- its current width reaching between 20-25 meters -- and replacing the destroyed houses with towers. The Palestinians fear that the plan would replace the camp with a new neighborhood and that the residents who were forced to leave their homes during the war would not be able to return to Yarmouk.
Once again, then, the world is ignoring human rights violations perpetrated by an Arab country against Palestinians.
Unfortunately, the Palestinians of Syria live in an Arab country. Were those Palestinians living in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, the international media, the United Nations and human rights organizations would have interrupted the daily media fare of coronavirus by shouting day and night about Israel's purported persecution of the Palestinians.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.