The historical city of Aleppo is home to Syria’s second largest Palestinian community; its Nayrab and Handarat camps once boasted tens of thousands of refugees that were quickly assimilated into the Syrian population. For years, the Palestinians of Aleppo lived peacefully among their Arab brethren, thriving in business and commerce inside Syria’s economic capital.
However, once the war came to Aleppo City in the Summer of 2012; these Palestinian refugees were forced to make a critical decision: leave everything behind or fight. In the beginning, the Palestinians of Nayrab and Handarat chose to remain neutral; they did not feel it was their place to intermingle in Syrian affairs.
This would later change when the rebel forces launched several attacks to capture Handarat and Nayrab camps, despite the repeated calls for a ceasefire from the Palestinian community leaders.
In a matter of weeks, Handarat Camp was emptied – almost all the civilians fled to nearby Nayrab Camp. Unwilling to give up their homes, the Palestinian community leaders asked for assistance from the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). Under the tutelage of the Syrian Arab Army, the Palestinians of Nayrab Camp formed a militia called “Liwaa Al-Quds” (Jerusalem Brigade); this group would be tasked with the protection of this last Palestinian refugee camp in Aleppo.
In just under a year, Liwaa Al-Quds would became the third most powerful pro-government force in Aleppo. Liwaa Al-Quds’ military prowess made them an important ally to the Syrian Arab Army and National Defense Forces (NDF); especially, during their northern Aleppo offensive in January. Now, they have been given the imperative task of liberating the Handarat Refugee Camp from the rebel forces that expelled them in 2012 and 2013.
The battle for Handarat Camp is personal for them; many of the fighters from Liwaa Al-Quds were displaced as a result of the rebel forces. The neighborhoods and businesses they once cultivated inside Handarat Camp are destroyed, but that has done little to hinder their determination to liberate this place they called home for decades.