News / Middle East

Syria Fallout Raises Tensions in Lebanon’s Palestinian Camps

A Palestinian woman who fled the violence in Syria reacts during a sit-in in front of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Beirut, Lwbanon, March 21, 2013.
A Palestinian woman who fled the violence in Syria reacts during a sit-in in front of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Beirut, Lwbanon, March 21, 2013.
Jihadists and militant Sunni Islamists are upsetting the balance of power in the dozen refugee camps in Lebanon housing 400,000 Palestinians. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and its rival Hamas, who have long overseen the camps, are straining to keep the peace.

Palestinian leaders say they are striving to prevent violence breaking out between armed factions inside the dozen Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

They say fallout from the civil war raging in neighboring Syria is compromising relations within the camps between Palestinian groups and jihadists sympathetic to opposing sides in the Syrian conflict.

The increasing presence of radical Sunni Islamists risks sparking violence and is straining the ability of the leaders of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Hamas to keep the camps from being drawn into a conflict that is spilling over into Lebanon.

By long-standing agreement, the Lebanese army does not enter the country's dozen refugee camps, leaving security inside to the Palestinians themselves. The Palestinians are stateless and are loosely governed by a variety of leadership.

Abu Ahmad Fadel Taha, the political representative for Hamas in Ain Helweh, the largest of the camps set up for Palestinian refugees who fled the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, says tensions are running high. A deal to keep the peace isn’t always observed.

“There are always meetings between all the nationalist and Islamist groups in the camp. There is an agreement, at least an agreement but you know sometimes some things get out of line and cannot be controlled,” he said.

Last month radical Islamists in Ain Helweh gunned down a member of the Fatah movement of the PLO, according to an official statement from the Lebanese army.  

Also last month, radical Islamists from the camp who back the Syrian rebels battling to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad joined in a two-day firefight in nearby Sidon between armed followers of a fiery anti-Assad Lebanese Sunni preacher and the Lebanese army.  At least 46 were killed, including 18 soldiers.

Ain Helweh’s population before the Syrian civil war numbered about 80,000 but it now accommodates 27,000 more refugees, primarily Palestinian Syrians. The influx includes  Islamists, adding to radical elements that were already there, say Lebanese intelligence sources.

Keeping a lid on tensions

Munir al-Maqdah, commander for the PLO’s Fatah movement in the camp, plays down the presence of jihadists, saying most went off to fight in Syria. But he concedes vigilance is needed, if a lid is to be kept on the simmering rivalries. He said the PLO has no interest in being drawn into any fighting in Lebanon.

“We don’t have any interest in getting involved. We are just guests in our brother country,” he said.

But while the Fatah commander plays down the danger, he and his Hamas counterpart in the camp say they meet frequently with leaders of the 14 other Palestinian and Islamist armed factions.

Al-Maqdah urged Palestinian Syrian refugees and others in the camp to keep their opinions to themselves about Assad.

“Some are with the [Assad] regime; others are against," he said. "I tell people to keep their opinions inside of them, keep it for you, be in sympathy with whoever you want, but don’t create problems here.”

The Palestinian camps have played prominent roles in Lebanon, and in 2007 one camp was taken over by violent Islamists, triggering a three-month-long siege by the Lebanese army in one of the most severe bouts of internal fighting in Lebanon since the country’s 1975-1990 civil war.

You May Like

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs