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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid