What was the PA’s security chief doing in Lebanon?
The clashes at Ain al-Hilweh look like part of a broader Israeli-sponsored scheme to sow strife
I had expected the meeting of Palestinian faction leaders, which was called for and chaired by President Mahmoud Abbas and held on Sunday at the Egyptian resort of al-Alamein, to end in failure. But I never expected that failure to be reflected so quickly in unexpected armed clashes in Ain al-Hilweh camp in South Lebanon — which houses 54,000 Palestinian refugees — between elements of the Fateh movement and radical Islamist groups. The fighting broke out just a few days after a visit by Majed Faraj, the intelligence chief of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and de facto commander of its security forces that collaborate with the occupation.
These clashes, which have so far led to nine deaths, coincided with sharply rising tensions between Hezbollah-led Lebanese resistance forces and the Israeli occupation state. It declared a state of alert among its forces on the northern front, and its prime minister and defence minister both threatened yet again to return Lebanon to the stone age.
I won’t go into the details of the clashes and the factions involved in them, nor the intervention of the Lebanese army which surrounded the camp after some of its soldiers manning a nearby post were targeted by deliberate but unattributed shelling. But it is impossible to dismiss the suspicions several Lebanese and Palestinian parties have about Faraj’s unprecedented visit to Lebanon and its true purpose.
I have gleaned some information about his visit from several reliable Lebanese and Palestinian sources.
First, Faraj requested a meeting with the Lebanon-based leader of the Islamic Jihad movement, Ziad al-Nakhaleh, to discuss his group’s boycott of the al-Alamein meeting and restoring calm to Jenin refugee camp and the northern West Bank. Nakhaleh refused to meet him — possibly for security as well as political reasons — but spoke to him on the phone and said he would not negotiate with him until all detainees from Islamic Jihad and other factions are released from PA jails.
Secondly, this visit caused much anger in Hezbollah leadership circles. Strong messages of protest were sent to Fateh leaders in Lebanon and Ramallah warning that any intervention by them could ignite rivalries within the Palestinian camps in South Lebanon that would undermine calm and stability in the area and impact negatively on the resistance and its mission of confronting the occupation.
Third, Abbas is determined to live up to the most controversial part of the speech he delivered in Jenin camp after the flight of the defeated Israeli forces: that nobody other than the PA will be allowed to bear arms in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Faraj’s visit was intended to apply that same strategy to the camps in Lebanon.
Fourth, the attack on the Lebanese army post near Ain al-Hilweh that injured several of its soldiers. The army has always avoided going into the camp as far as possible. This was a deliberate attempt to draw it in. It sought to replicate the bloody scenario at Nahr al-Bared camp near Tripoli in northern Lebanon in 2007, which resulted in dozens of deaths, thousands of people being displaced, and the camp being completely obliterated.
What is happening in Ain al-Hilweh could well be an Israeli-sponsored attempt to cause inter-Palestinian strife by replicating the Jenin camp assault scenario in the camps in Lebanon, and delegating the task to the PA. The higher purpose is to undermine security and stability on South Lebanon to divert the increasingly powerful Hezbollah from confronting the Israeli occupation forces it has been increasingly defying and harassing on the border.
The PA turning its security forces’ attention to Lebanon crosses a red line replete with risks, not just for Lebanon but also the Palestinian cause. The Lebanese resistance, supported by the army and Palestinian allies inside and outside Lebanon, will not allow it. It is pathetic that the PA, having failed at the al-Alamein conference and refusing to recognise that it is supported by no more than 5% of the Palestinian people, should seek to extricate itself from one failure by plunging into another.
The Palestinian people, having suffered the calamities of the Oslo Accords, are mostly, if not wholly, in the trench of resistance, both in the Occupied Territories and Lebanon. They have learned from the experience of Yarmouk camp in Syria, and will not allow similar incitement of bloody strife to be transferred to the camps in Lebanon. These camps and their inhabitants have suffered enormously over the past 75 years. Any arms they have should be directed solely in one direction, at the occupying Israeli enemy.