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

Video 2nd American Reportedly Killed in Syria

Minnesota television report says Abdirahman Muhumed left area to fight for Islamic State militants More

WHO Fears Ebola Outbreak Could Infect 20,000 People

World Health Organization says outbreak 'continues to accelerate' but that most cases are concentrated in a few local areas More

Angelina Jolie Marries Brad Pitt

Actors wed in small private ceremony Saturday in France More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid