Botched arrest sparks camp clashes
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.