Palestinian refugees fleeing from the conflict in Syria are being welcomed warmly in the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has pledged to offer a complete package of aid to each refugee from Syria.
Meeting refugee families on Sunday, Mr Haniyeh handed each one $500 in immediate cash aid and told them that their children's school fees would be waived. As well as promising employment opportunities and a free driving licence for one member of each family, the prime minister said that they could have free health insurance and a free pilgrimage to Makkah.
Haniyeh also said that each refugee killed in Syria would be treated the same as a martyr killed by the Israeli occupation. "The martyr's family will have the same rights and facilities," he insisted. "Whether Syrian or Palestinian refugees, all families will be registered on the government social benefit programme; there will be no difference between Palestinian or Syrian refugees."
In addition, he stressed that all routine bureaucracy for businessmen would be facilitated before refugees actually arrived in Gaza from Syria. "All graduates will be merged into the temporary work programmes," he added. "This is a debt on the Palestinians to the Syrians, who hosted us for decades. Palestinian refugees did not feel the differences between nationalities while they were in Syria."
However, Prime Minister Haniyeh pointed out that it is both "natural and right" for the end destination for the Palestinian refugees to be their occupied land. "There is no alternative to Safed, Al-Lod, Al-Ramlla, Yaffa, Acre, Tiberius and other occupied Palestinian cities." The right of return is not negotiable, he affirmed.
"While living conditions are bad due to the siege," said Mr Haniyeh, "coming here is better than drowning at sea." Do not put yourselves and your families in danger, he told Palestinian and Syrian refugees. "We are your brothers and families and we will receive you despite the misery of the siege. Gaza is part of the Palestinian land and is ready to host you."
MEMO Photographer: Mohammed Asad