May 20, 2015 Special Dispatch No. 6051

The Emergence Of 'Galilee Forces' – Palestinian Forces Fighting Alongside Syrian Regime

May 20, 2015
Palestinians, Syria | Special Dispatch No. 6051

In recent weeks, fierce battles have raged on several fronts between supporters and forces of the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition, from Idlib in the north of Syria to Rif Dimashq in the south to the Al-Qalamoun mountains on the Lebanese border. Both sides see these campaigns as highly critical ones that could win the war that is now in its fifth year, and are sending more and more troops to those areas.

In addition to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Lebanese Hizbullah, and the Shi'ite Iraqi, Afghani, and Pakistani militias, Palestinian forces are also fighting alongside the Syrian regime.[1]  According to the Revolution Forces of Syria website, the main Palestinian forces fighting alongside the regime included the 60,000-strong Palestinian Liberation Army - "the military wing of the PLO" - and Liwa Al-Quds, led by Muhammad Sa'id, which comprises several thousand residents of Palestinian refugee camps near Aleppo.[2]

This Palestinian loyalty towards the Syrian regime is unsurprising, in light of the fact that over the years, Syria has served as a base and a refuge for armed secular Palestinian groups, and, until recently, for Islamic groups such as Hamas. Against the backdrop of the fighting in the Al-Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, and ISIS's entry into the camp, the alliance between the Syrian regime and the armed Palestinian groups has become closer, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) even announced that it supported the regime's actions vis-à-vis the camp.[3]

In recent days, a new Palestinian group, the Galilee Forces (Quwat Al-Jalil) or Galilee Brigade (Liwa Al-Jalil), has emerged and is fighting alongside the Syrian regime in Al-Qalamoun and Rif Dimashq; this group is the military wing of the Palestinian Youth Return Movement, and is led by Fadi Al-Mallah, aka Abu Al-Fidaa.

The Palestinian Youth Return Movement

The Palestinian Youth Return Movement, headed by Al-Mallah, was established in Damascus on May 12, 2012, a year after the outbreak of the anti-regime riots, which by then had developed into a full-blown war. The organization's establishment also coincided with the anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba.

Left: Palestinian Youth Return Movement emblem; right: Galilee Forces shoulder badge

A few days after the establishment of the Palestinian Youth Return Movement, Al-Mallah declared that it had "a large popular base in Syria and occupied Palestine" and that it demanded achieving Palestinian national rights by the liberation of Palestine and all occupied land in the Arab homeland by means of all forms of struggle, chiefly armed resistance." He stressed that the movement had no relation to any other movement or party.[4]

The movement's Facebook page features photos of cities both in the Palestinian territories and in Israel, such as Jaffa, Haifa, Safed, which prior to 1948 were major Arab urban centers, captioned "so that we do not forget."[5]  

Left: Safed; Right: "This is Haifa... and the stones speak"

Alongside statements about the desire and the aspiration to realize the Palestinian right of return, Palestine Youth Return members express unqualified support for the Syrian regime. In an interview with the Syrian website a few days after the movement was established, Al-Mallah praised "the steadfast stand made by the Arab Syrian people and the wisdom of President Bashar Al-Assad," adding that "the path of return begins in Damascus."[6] On May 21, 2014, the movement issued a statement of support for the Syrian presidential elections and called them "the true and legitimate way to preserve the unity of Syria - [the symbol] of the resistance."[7] In addition, in August 2014, at the height of the fighting in Gaza, movement members participated in a blood drive for the Syrian army. According to Al-Mallah, "every drop of blood donated for the Arab Syrian army is a donation for the heroic Gaza... Palestinian blood donations are a kind of reciprocation to Syria and its sons... who have done everything for the Palestinians and their cause in the past decades."[8]

The Galilee Forces - The Military Wing Of The Palestinian Youth Return Movement

As noted, the Palestine Youth Return Movement's support for the Syrian regime recently acquired another expression with the establishment of its military wing, the Galilee Forces. On the Galilee Forces Facebook page, Al-Mallah is described as "our commander, and our older and younger brother, who taught us the meaning of sacrifice and taught us lessons in loyalty."[9]   

Fadi Al-Mallah

The Galilee Forces sees itself as an integral part of the resistance axis. In a Facebook post, the group stated: "We are the sons of the Galilee, Acre, Haifa, Ramla, Safed, Al-Ja'una, Semakh, Yazour, and Lod. We are the sons of the Golan, Sheba'a Al-Hamadiya, and Majdal. We are the Galilee Forces, the descendants of ['Izz Al-Din] Al-Qassam, [Haj Amin] Al-Husseini, [and Raghib] Al-Nashashibi. We are the descendants of [Ahmad] Jibril, [Ahmad] Al-Shukairi, [Yasser] Arafat, [George] Habash, [Nayef] Hawatmeh... The descendants of [Yahya] 'Ayyash, [Fathi] Al-Shaqaqi, and [Ahmad] Yassin... We are the brothers of Bashar Al-Assad and the sons of [Hassan] Nasrallah and ['Abd Al-Malik] Al-Houthi. We are the brothers of ['Imad] Mughniyah."[10]

According to the group's Facebook page, its main activity is in Al-Qalamoun, where the regime and its supporters have been fighting bloody battles against the opposition under the leadership of "Jaish Fath Al-Qalamoun."[11] The page recently featured a video from Al-Qalamoun dated May 4, 2015, showing Galilee Forces members carrying the bodies of anti-Assad "terrorists." Additionally, on May 14, 2015, the Facebook page reported that a unit of the Galilee Forces - the Al-Basel Brigade - had participated in the battle of Tal Moussa in Al-Qalamoun a few days previously, which ended in victory.

Al-Basel Brigade after the victory in Tal Moussa

The Galilee Forces is also fighting alongside the Syrian regime in Rif Dimashq. A recent video posted on the group's Facebook page featured "one of the operations of the [armaments] production unit in the Galilee Brigade together with the national defense forces and Arab Syrian army."[12]

Hizbullah Sources: War Plan For Al-Qalamoun Also Applicable To Galilee

The reports on the Galilee Forces joining the fighting in Al-Qalamoun alongside Hizbullah and the Syrian regime appeared alongside reports in the Arab press that linked the present fighting in that area to a future battle between Hizbullah and Israel in the Galilee. Senior Hizbullah official Hashem Safi Al-Din declared that "the resistance can replicate its newly acquired experience from the Al-Qalamoun mountains and Syria in the Galilee."[13] Hizbullah officials told the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai that the war plan implemented in Al-Qalamoun is also applicable to the Galilee, where "the internal front behind the defense lines will be attacked, and all the [military] positions, outposts and concentrations of forces will be shelled until direct contact is achieved through a direct  attack on the settlements and military positions." The sources added that the Hizbullah leadership was waiting to see the outcome of the battle in Al-Qalamoun in order to draw lessons from it and improve the performance of their troops. They assessed that the war in the Galilee will be easier than the war in Al-Qalamoun, where Hizbullah is fighting forces imbued with deep faith that impels them to fight to the death, "unlike the Israeli army."[14]

The Lebanese daily Al-Safir, known as a supporter of Hizbullah, wrote that this organization's takeover of Tel Moussa, one of the tallest peaks in the Al-Qalamoun range, is, among other things, "a message to Israel that the resistance [i.e., Hizbullah] is in better shape than ever and that the war in Syria has not exhausted it but has [only] strengthened it and improved its capabilities..." The daily added: "Hizbullah's actions in Al-Qalamoun may be a rehearsal for a similar scenario that may unfold in the occupied Upper Galilee in any future war that might erupt.[15] Al-Safir reporter Khalil Harb claimed that, by its victories in the Al-Qalamoun, Al-Qusayr and Homs areas, Hizbullah had created for itself "strategic depth for any future conflict with Israel, which will provide the resistance axis with broader options in the field... Another message... addressed to the Israeli generals [is this]: To what extent is the terrain in the Galilee less difficult than [the terrain] in Al-Qalamoun?[16]

It should be noted that Hizbullah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has previously threatened - most recently in January 2015 - that in the next war with Israel, Hizbullah will occupy the Galilee. [17]

Nevertheless, it cannot be ruled out that this is an attempt by Hizbullah to justify the fighting in Al-Qalamoun, where it sustained heavy losses, and to defend it to its core supporters by claiming that it was actually gaining experience for a future war against Israel in the Upper Galilee.     




[1] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1157, Iran Tightens Its Grip On Syria Using Syrian And Foreign Forces, May 5, 2015.

[2], May 13, 2015.

[3] In early May 2015, a PA delegation headed by Fatah Central Committee member Zakaria Al-Agha visited Damascus to discuss ways of dealing with the crisis caused by ISIS' infiltration of the Al-Yarmouk refugee camp. In a meeting with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Al-Miqdad, Al-Agha mentioned the depth of strategic relations between the Palestinian and Syrian leaderships and their agreement on the methods to deal with the crisis in the camp. He further said that the PA supports steps taken by the Syrian government to defend its land and people. SANA news agency (Syria), May 5, 2015. The extent of Palestinian involvement in the Syrian arena can be seen by the part Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas played in securing the release of two Swedish citizens who were captured by Jabhat Al-Nusra in April 2015., April 26, 2015.

[4], June 2, 2012.

[5], April 30, 2015.

[6], June 2, 2012.

[7], May 21, 2014.

[8], August 11, 2014.

[9] The Galilee Forces Facebook page, May 11, 2015.

[10] The post includes a list of towns in pre-1967 Israel, some of which appear under their Hebrew names and some under their Arabic names, as well as the names of commanders of Palestinian organizations that fought Israel over the years and the names of elements related to the resistance axis.

[11] Jaish Al-Fath is a coalition of opposition factions formed in March 2015 comprising Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra and other factions, both Islamist and moderate.

[12] /pages/1579316665649427, April 26, 2015.

[13] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 19, 2015.

[14] Al-Rai (Kuwait), May 14, 2015.

[15] Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 14, 2015.

[16] Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 14, 2015.

[17], January 14, 2015.

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