Botched ar­rest sparks camp clashes

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Mo­hammed Zaatari

Armed clashes be­tween Pales­tinian se­cu­rity forces and a group loyal to a wanted crim­i­nal wounded two Fri­day in the AlBass refugee camp in the city of Tyre.

Fight­ing be­gan Thurs­day night when mem­bers of the joint force at­tempted to ar­rest Naji Tohme – a wanted drug and weapons dealer.

The en­su­ing gun­fight con­tin­ued un­til around 2:30 a.m.

Armed men loyal to Tohme shot in­dis­crim­i­nately to­ward civil­ians, se­cu­rity forces and a Le­banese Army bar­racks dur­ing the fight­ing, while Tohme re­fused to sur­ren­der him­self to the Pales­tinian se­cu­rity force and the Le­banese au­thor­i­ties, a source with knowl­edge of the camp said.

Two peo­ple – Amal Fawzi Atiyeh and Nasser al-Ja­mal – were wounded as a re­sult.

A source fa­mil­iar with the camp said lo­cal Pales­tinian se­cu­rity forces and the Fatah Move­ment were work­ing to “erad­i­cate” the pres­ence of Tohme and his loy­al­ists.

Fatah Com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer in south Le­banon Mo­ham­mad alBekaai said that se­cu­rity forces had taken great care to avoid civil­ian ca­su­al­ties and dam­age.

Pales­tinian se­cu­rity force mem­bers ap­proached the house, keep­ing in mind the pres­ence of women, chil­dren and civil­ian men, he said and re­sponded to gun­fire from light to heavy ma­chine guns by fir­ing at their source.

Butres­i­dentsla­ment­ed­heavy­dam­age to the area as a re­sult of the fight­ing. Among them was Tohme’s sis­ter, who told The Daily Star her brother was in­deed a drug and weapons dealer, but that the man­ner of his ar­rest had been very ag­gres­sive.

“The way Fatah mem­bers han­dled the sit­u­a­tion, fir­ing bul­lets hap­haz­ardly at the house ... and de­stroy­ing the glass ... was not ac­cept­able,” she said, adding that Tohme wouldn’t have re­acted the way he did had the op­er­a­tion to ar­rest him taken place in a peace­ful man­ner.

The Daily Star toured the camp with Fatah of­fi­cials af­ter the fight­ing sub­sided, sur­vey­ing the dam­age to more than 10 cars, houses, an elec­tric­ity sta­tion and phone lines.

Tohme’s neigh­bor, Samira Merhi, said that ar­rests should take place in a well-planned man­ner, sec­ond­ing Tohme’s sis­ter’s state­ments.

“Why did they do this to my house,” Merhi told The Daily Star, ges­tur­ing to­ward her pock­marked front wall and shat­tered win­dows. “If he is wanted, they should have taken him and ar­rested him in a peace­ful man­ner ... they knew he was in the house.”

Bekaai said the joint Pales­tinian se­cu­rity force, which is mostly made up of Fatah mem­bers – re­ceived in­for­ma­tion from un­spec­i­fied se­cu­rity agen­cies about a de­liv­ery of drugs to Tohme’s house, af­ter which they were asked to de­tain him.

Bekaai added that the gun­fire com­ing from Tohme’s di­rec­tion was not only aimed at the se­cu­rity forces, but also at Tyre and in the di­rec­tion of “life out­side the city.”

Fatah were able to en­ter Tohme’s house Fri­day morn­ing but found that he had es­caped, though he is not ex­pected to have made it past se­cu­rity at the camp’s en­trances.

The Army cut off the road be­tween Al-Bass and Tyre for the du­ra­tion of the gun­fight and main­tained an in­creased se­cu­rity pres­ence through­out Fri­day.

The Pales­tinian se­cu­rity force in­di­cated that they would con­tinue to seek Tohme’s ar­rest “be­cause there is no place for any rogue, thief or ag­gres­sor who deals with drugs and [neg­a­tively] im­pacts the Pales­tinian-Le­banese re­la­tion­ship,” Bekaai said.

The Al-Bass camp re­port­edly is home to many Le­banese fam­i­lies and in­sti­tu­tions in ad­di­tion to Pales­tini­ans, in­clud­ing Tyre’s gov­ern­ment hospi­tal.

There are three main Pales­tinian refugee camps in Tyre: Al-Bass, Rashi­dieh and Burj al-She­mali.

There are also a num­ber of smaller Pales­tinian set­tle­ments on the road be­tween Si­don and Tyre.

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