SIDON, Lebanon: Fugitive preacher Sheikh Ahmad Assir’s celebrity companion has been given a one-week deadline to leave the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, according to sources familiar with the issue. The sources said that Fadl Shaker, formerly a pop singer, received the ultimatum Tuesday from a faction inside the camp.
He and Assir have been on the run since last month’s deadly battles in the Sidon suburb of Abra, when the army clashed with supporters of the firebrand preacher.
Reports have emerged in recent weeks suggesting both Assir and Shaker fled the Taamir neighborhood to the nearby Ain al-Hilweh camp after the Army launched a military operation to crush Assir’s fighters in the Sidon suburb of Abra.
Security sources told The Daily Star last week that Shaker and 10 other gunmen had taken refuge in the Palestinian camp near the coastal city.
But a Fatah official Wednesday denied reports that Assir and Shaker had taken refuge in Ain al-Hilweh.
“Let’s be clear, we haven’t had any information until now confirming that Ahmad Assir or anyone otherwise are within the camp’s parameter or [the nearby area] Taamir,” the head of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Armed Struggle in Lebanon, Brig. Gen. Mahmoud Issa, told reporters.
“Until now, we don’t have anything confirming such information,” Issa, better known as Lino, added.
Lino made the remarks while supervising the distribution of aid to Palestinian refugees from Syria by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan’s institution for humanitarian work.
Lebanon’s military investigative judge has issued arrest warrants in absentia against Assir and Shaker.
The National News Agency said a total of five detainees suspected of involvement in the Abra fighting remained in custody after a decision by Judge Saqr Saqr, the government’s representative to the Military Tribunal, halted a judicial decision to free a number of suspects being implemented.
The clashes, which lasted two days and killed 18 soldiers and 28 gunmen, are expected to generate heated debate at Parliament Thursday, when the Defense Committee resumes its discussion of the issue.
While the Army’s crackdown against Assir and his followers at the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque was widely praised, a number of politicians objected to the treatment of Sidon residents in the wake of the clashes by military and security personnel.
An initial session on the matter last week resulted in a fiery exchange of words between MPs from the March 14 and March 8 camps over the role of the Lebanese Army in the clashes, and whether Hezbollah fighters had taken part in the clashes.
The Fatah official also spoke about security at the camp and reiterated that Palestinians would remain neutral toward internal Lebanese conflicts.
“The situation is stable in the camp and the security situation is acceptable,” he said, adding that he was in contact with other Palestinian factions in Lebanon on the issue given the situation in the country and region.
“We have already announced – and we say it again – that as Palestinians we will remain at a distance from any internal Lebanese conflicts,” Lino added, vowing that any Palestinian involving themselves in such disputes would be held accountable.
As for the help Palestinian refugees from Syria were receiving inside the camp, Lino said Fatah had opened two centers to assist the popular committees and other organizations to distribute aid to some 20,000 additional people living there.
“The number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who have fled Syria to Ain al-Hilweh, according to estimates, is 17,000 and 400 families until now,” he said. Each family received a $150-voucher that was valid until the end of the year, he added.