Palestinian factions launch offensive against extremist group in Lebanon camp

Published April 9th, 2017 - 11:00 GMT
Smoke rises from clashes in Lebanon's Ain al-Hilweh's Palestinian refugee camp, 8 April 2017. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)
Smoke rises from clashes in Lebanon's Ain al-Hilweh's Palestinian refugee camp, 8 April 2017. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)

The Fatah Movement Saturday launched a wide-scale attack on Tiri neighborhood in the south Lebanon Ain al-Hilweh camp to curb the movement of a group led by extremist Bilal Badr.

A security source told The Daily Star that Fatah gunmen launched more than 40 mortar rounds and opened direct fire at the neighborhood to paralyze the movement of gunmen from Badr's group.

Meanwhile, Badr's gunmen opened fire sparingly to maintain their ammunition.

The Fatah Movement attack was launched on three axes to cordon off Tiri neighborhood, Badr's stronghold.

The Lebanese Army also opened a checkpoint leading to the neighborhood to allow civilians to leave the area.

A security source told The Daily Star that fighters from Palestine Liberation Organization, particularly the Fatah Movement, had begun deploying to Ain Al-Hilweh coming from Palestinian camps in Tyre to "settle the battle and eradicate extremists."

However, Gen. Sobhi Abu Arab denied that Fatah had brought reinforcements to Ain al-Hilweh, saying that the group's supporters have been heading to the camp without an official request by the movement.

"We asked them to withdraw because our situation is under control ... our aim is to end Bilal Badr's [acts], which became a burden to the camp," Abu Arab said. He described Badr and his groups as "assassins, who are linked to foreign agendas," without specifying which foreign powers he was referring to.

Earlier Saturday, Badr requested that mediators broker a cease-fire. However, the Palestinian force was resolute in completing its deployment in the camp.

“We do not want more bloodshed ... and we do not want someone who is corrupt and who works [to carry out] foreign agendas among us,” a member of the Joint Palestinian Force said in a Twitter statement, addressing Bilal Badr.

Veteran Fatah official Maj. Gen. Munir Maqdah said that the security plan was coordinated with Lebanese security officials. The deployment plan will end once the whole camp is under the control of the Palestinian force, which has a list of the names of fugitives who are wanted by Lebanese authorities.

Maqdah called on Badr to surrender to authorities in remarks to The Daily Star.

"The camp will not remain a hub for tension, assassinations, killing and startling our families," he said.

Maqdah said that Palestinian and Islamist factions have agreed on the deployment of the security force at the camp. "There's no backing down," he vowed.

He said that Fatah was seeking to maintain the security of the camp and neighboring areas.

Clashes in Ain al-Hilweh erupted Friday afternoon when the joint Palestinian security force was first deploying in the camp.

An Islamist group led by extremist Badr attempted to halt the deployment of the Palestinian force, including members of several secular and Islamist Palestinian factions tasked with maintaining order in the camp.

Two members of the Palestinian force have been killed, the source said.

Fifteen other Palestinians were wounded, while many others were forced to evacuate their homes.

A number of schools were also closed Saturday morning.

Ain al-Hilweh and other Palestinian camps are de facto off-limits for Lebanese security forces, which cordoned off a nearby highway connecting Sidon with the rest of south Lebanon for fear of sporadic shooting.

Ain al-Hilweh is Lebanon's largest Palestinian camp, and it is notorious for harboring fugitives. Violent clashes frequently erupt between extremists and other Palestinian factions.

Around 100,000 Palestinians live in the camp.

Patients Evacuated from Hospital

Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani issued a statement demanding Sidon Governmental Hospital to evacuate the facility due to its proximity to the hostilities.

"The violent armed clashes pose threat to the lives of people at the hospital," the statement said.

A ministry's health team evacuated the patients, who were transported to nearby hospitals.

The statement added that the medical team at the hospital remains at the facility and is conducting its work by treating urgent cases.

Doctor Ahmad al-Samadi, Sidon Governmental Hospital director, had told The Daily Star that some families had decided to transfer their relatives to nearby hospitals.

Ambulances were seen evacuating the patients.

"The hospital and its staff will continue their tasks and will treat all admitted patients," Samadi said.

Wave of Condemnation

Sidon MP Bahia Hariri expressed solidarity with Palestinian over the security chaos in Ain al-Hilweh.

The lawmaker stressed the urgent need to "follow up on the decision made by the Palestinian and Islamist factions in Ain al-Hilweh to fortify stability and security at the camp and in Sidon."

She also followed up on the developments at the camp with Fatah movement Secretary Fathi Abu al-Ardat and Lebanese Army Intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Khodr Hammoud, among others.

Sidon Mufti Sheikh Salim Susan also denounced the situation in Ain al-Hilweh. He called for dialogue to resolve disputes as "the sound of bullets became stronger than that of reason."

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