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Palestinian Jihadists Fighting in Syria, First With an Eye on Destroying Assad, then Israel

Palestinian jihadists from the Gaza Strip are traveling to Syria to fight, putting themselves on one side of the three-sided, two-year proxy war that has pitted Sunni opposition forces against the Iran-backed Damascus regime against regional Kurdish groups. Their fight is currently against the Bashar al-Assad regime, but their actual goal is a little more ambitious:

The Palestinians who are heading to Syria have been told their ultimate mission is to liberate Palestine “from the river to the sea.” Once they get rid of Assad, they are told, they will move to their next station — Jordan. From there, their jihad will take them to Israel, where they and their friends in Jabhat al-Nusra [The Support Front] hope to create a pan-Islamic state ruled by Sharia laws.

This news will deepen concerns that Syria is becoming a training ground for battle-hardened jihadists. European Union nations have become increasingly vocal in criticizing Russia for propping up the Assad regime in part on the grounds that prolonging the conflict prolongs the opportunity Islamist forces have to train and fight.

This is not the first time that the al-Qaeda linked jihadists who increasingly dominate the Syrian opposition have promised to turn their guns on Israel:

[Ayman al-Zawahiri] has harped on the issue of late. In February 2012, in his first call to join the battle against Assad, he tasked his warriors with establishing a state that “seeks to free the Golan, and continues Jihad until the flag of victory is raised above the usurped hills of Jerusalem.” In September, in an audio address, he reiterated the message, saying “supporting jihad in Syria to establish a Muslim state is a basic step towards Jerusalem.”

The Palestinians heading to Syria reportedly include those belonging to al-Qaeda linked Islamist groups that have been operating in the Gaza Strip over the past few years. Most of these groups emerged after the Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, after which Hamas violently seized control of the territory. Some include former Hamas members who broke away from the Iran-backed terror group because they found it too moderate.

The ceasefire that marked the end of Israel’s November 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense — and which Hamas has enforced under Egyptian pressure — has left the jihadists with little to do, and some of them technically unemployed. The migration to Syria promises to lessen their ennui.

[Photo: FreedomHouse / Flickr]