Tension in Lebanon's Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp after clashes
A tense calm prevailed over the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in southern Lebanon Tuesday after a day of sporadic clashes, with camp residents and officials demanding peace.
Fighting was over Monday night when a separation force composed of the Usbat al-Ansar Islamist group and the Islamic Jihadist Movement scattered its members in the area between the strongholds of followers of Bilal Badr, who led the disbanded Fatah al-Islam group, and their rivals, supporters of Talal al-Urduni from the Fatah Movement.
Gunmen loyal to the two engaged in clashes Monday that left eight wounded, mostly civilians.
For Ain al-Hilweh resident Abu Wael Klaib, these past few days were supposed to be a time for reflection about the Nakba – the Palestinians’ expulsion before and after the creation of Israel on May 15, 1948 – but instead they brought fresh tragedy.
“These days we were supposed to prepare for the Nakba, but we suffered our own nakba in the ... camp,” Klaib told The Daily Star.
“So we urge all the residents and all the forces to work on activating an effective and striking security force so it can strike down every person who tampers with the security of the camp; we are on a ship and everyone on board is drowning.”
According to Ali Agha, the political assassinations are harming the camp’s residents. He said that, as Palestinians, they had only one goal and one vision: to return to Palestine.
“We want to maintain security and we thank the striking security force that took over the camp as a separation force between the two [groups of] fighters,” Agha said, calling for the quick formation of a more effective security force.
Classes at schools run by the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) were closed Tuesday for fear of renewed clashes, and some shops also remained shuttered. Maintenance crews from neighborhood committees surveyed the damage to the infrastructure on Fawqani Street, where the clashes occurred.
The ensuing intermittent fighting forced schools inside the camp, which falls on the outskirts of the city of Sidon and those in nearby city neighborhoods to evacuate students by midday and shops in the area to close down.
The security deterioration in the largest Palestinian camp in Lebanon comes in the wake of a series of assassinations, the most recent of which was last week’s attempt to kill Alaa Ali Hujeir, a Palestinian member of Fatah al-Islam, which left him in a critical condition.
Abed Maqdah, secretary of the Palestinian Follow-up Committee, said the separation force would soon be replaced by a joint security unit, the formation of which was recently finalized by the Supreme Security Committee for Palestinian Camps.
The new force will be composed of 150 members representing the different Palestinian factions, including the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Ansar Ullah group, the Alliance of Palestinian Factions – known in Palestinian circles as the “Tahalof,” and the Islamist factions. It will be in action “as soon as possible,” Maqdah said.
“All of us in the Ain al-Hilweh camp are committed to this force backed by strong popular support,” he added.
In reaction to the camp’s growing unrest, the South Lebanon Security Council held an emergency meeting in the Sidon Serail Tuesday, headed by south Lebanon acting governor Nicolas Bou Daher.
The council discussed the latest security developments and centered on the situation in Ain al-Hilweh, prompting participants to call on the different groups in the camp to de-escalate the situation.
Also, the council decided to intensify security measures in the southern city and its suburbs, including staging patrols, forbidding the presence of gunmen, and pursuing and arresting anyone who attacked security forces, in light of armed clashes which broke out Monday evening in a neighborhood in Sidon.
Mohammad Saleh opened fire on Ahmad Zakkour during a dispute in the neighborhood of Nazlet Saydoun, wounding him in his leg.
An Internal Security Forces unit that stepped in to restore order also came under fire.
A joint force comprising the ISF Information Branch and ISF personnel conducted raids overnight Monday in a number of neighborhoods in the old quarter of Sidon, in search of the armed men who had shot at the police unit.
They arrested Saleh and Zakkour along with Mohammad Nassar, Mohammad Ahwati, and Saleh Abu Arisha, and referred them to the Sidon police department.
Separately, the joint force also arrested Rida Hasni, who had six arrest warrants issued against him on drug charges.
By Mohammed Zaatari