Palestinian president offers aid to Syria refugees
The Palestinian president said Wednesday he is ready to take in Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria's civil war, and the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to facilitate their entry.
Mahmoud Abbas' offer follows an attack by Syrian warplanes against the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus and days of fighting there.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said he received a request from Abbas to help in bringing the refugees to the Palestinian territories. This could include the West Bank, where Abbas governs, and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Any movement of refugees into the West Bank would need the consent of Israel. Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said Israel has not yet received a formal proposal for refugees to enter the Palestinian territories.
He claimed refugees fleeing violence in Syria are not interested in seeking shelter in Israel or the West Bank.
"I don't know how relevant Ban Ki-moon's call to open our borders is to us. Even if we open our borders, no one would come across it," Hirschson said.
Ban said he was "deeply concerned about all this violence taking place against Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk camp."
"We will discuss this matter as a priority agenda - how we can support, help those people," he said.
Ban urged all the neighboring countries "to open their borders so that there should be free and unhindered movement of refugees."
Asked whether this would include Israel, so the Palestinians could cross through Israeli territory, Ban replied, "All the countries who can give support and cooperation, including Israel."
He said there were 160,000 refugees housed in Yarmouk camp, and by some accounts, two-thirds of them, or 100,000, have fled.
Some 450,000 Palestinian refugees live in 10 camps in Syria, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.