U.N. agency knew of armed for­eign­ers in Le­banon refugee camp

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Betsy Pisik

NEW YORK — The U.N. agency that over­sees the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in north­ern Le­banon, the scene of bat­tles be­tween Le­banese troops and Mus­lim mil­i­tants, said on May 23 that it had been aware for months that heav­ily armed for­eign­ers were mov­ing into the Pales­tinian en­clave but were help­less to stop them.

The ex­trem­ists of Fatah Is­lam, who lo­cal re­ports say hail from Syria, Saudi Ara­bia, Ye­men and Bangladesh, ap­par­ently en­tered the camp, just north of Tripoli, sev­eral months ago. They are thought to have ar­rived in a group, not in­di­vid­u­ally.

Of­fi­cials of the U.N. Re­lief and Works Agency (UNRWA) could not say how a large band of for­eign­ers car­ry­ing what has been de­scribed as mor­tars, rock­ets, ex­plo­sive belts and other heavy weapons were able get past the Le­banese army sol­diers sta­tioned out­side the camp.

They also could not ex­plain why mili­tias of young Pales­tinian men who pro­vide se­cu­rity and gather intelligence through­out Nahr elBared and other Pales­tinian ar­eas al­lowed for­eign fight­ers to settle there.

“Some­body hasn’t been do­ing their job,” said Karen Kon­ing AbuZayd, com­mis­sioner-gen­eral of UNRWA. “The prob­lem with refugee camps in Le­banon is that they are self-po­liced. [. . . ] This group showed up a few months ago. As far as we know, it is mainly a for­eign group.

“The Pales­tinian refugees them­selves have been very un­happy about it and have been try­ing to per­suade them to leave,” Mrs. AbuZayd told re­porters.

On May 23, Le­banon’s de­fense min­is­ter is­sued an ul­ti­ma­tum to Is­lamic mil­i­tants bar­ri­caded in the camp to sur­ren­der or face a mil­i­tary on­slaught.

Also on May 23, refugees con­tin­ued to leave Nahr el-Bared as a tense cease-fire held. Some piled onto the backs of pickup trucks or stuffed them­selves into bat­tered sedans.

Many joined rel­a­tives in the nearby Badawi refugee camp, while oth­ers made their way to nearby Tripoli.

UNRWA has 200 Pales­tinian em­ploy­ees inside the camp, mostly teach­ers, med­i­cal staff and aid work­ers who help dis­trib­ute sup­plies.

Mrs. AbuZayd said she was sur­prised that many of the camp’s 30,000 in­hab­i­tants didn’t leave be­fore fight­ing erupted on May 20.

On May 22, thou­sands of refugees took ad­van­tage of a pause in fight­ing to es­cape.

“UNRWA couldn’t do any­thing be­cause the United Na­tions is not re­spon­si­ble for polic­ing or ad­min­is­ter­ing the camps, only their own in­stal­la­tions inside them,” Mrs. AbuZayd said.

Se­cu­rity inside Le­banon’s 12 Pales­tinian refugee camps has al­ways been a sen­si­tive is­sue.

Le­banese po­lice and sol­diers are not per­mit­ted to en­ter the camps but main­tain a perime­ter, as much to pro­tect the Le­banese as to pro­tect the Pales­tini­ans from out­side threat.

UNRWA says it does not ad­min­is­ter the camps, nor does it main­tain a ros­ter of le­gal oc­cu­pants.

The U.N. agency is re­spon­si­ble only for reg­is­ter­ing refugees who want to use UNRWA fa­cil­i­ties such as schools and clin­ics as well as as­sis­tance pro­grams.

About 400,000 Pales­tini­ans live in Le­banon, most of them in se­verely crowded camps with lit­tle fresh wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion or jobs. They camps orig­i­nally held those dis­placed by the 1948 cre­ation of Is­rael, al­though the refugee num­bers have mul­ti­plied in later gen­er­a­tions.

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