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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid