Syria Agrees To Take Most Palestinians Stranded On Ship Group Has Searched For Home Since Being Expelled From Libya
Singing, banging drums and waving Syrian flags, more than 270 jubilant Palestinians set sail Sunday for Syria on the last leg of a Mediterranean odyssey that began 10 days ago when Libya expelled them.
The celebration contrasted with Saturday night, when many of more than 650 Palestinians stranded aboard the Countess M smashed the ship’s dining room before they were subdued by the crew.
Many Palestinians resent the Damascus government, which has long been at odds with the Palestine Liberation Organization. They fear what will happen to them once they land.
The Fayza Express sent by the Syrian government headed for Latakia, 125 miles northeast of the Cypriot port of Larnaca.
Port officials reported that 271 people were aboard the vessel. A Syrian official said a warship would pick up 321 other Palestinians stranded aboard the Cyprus-flagged Countess M.
The Palestinians - including 332 children under 10 - became stranded on the ship after they were expelled from Libya on Oct. 13.
The Countess M initially tried to go to Syria, but Damascus refused to let it in, and it anchored in Larnaca on Tuesday. Cyprus did not allow the passengers ashore.
Under diplomatic pressure, Syria agreed to let in all passengers carrying Syrian passports or travel documents.
Jordan has agreed to take up to 40 others, and Cypriot Transportation Minister Adamos Adamides said only 10 Palestinians would remain aboard the Countess M. There was no word on what would happen to them.
Adamides said Sunday there were 652 Palestinians aboard the Countess M but would not explain the discrepancy with the figure of 659 provided earlier.