Frag­ile peace holds in Ain al-Hil­weh

Ten­sions run high af­ter tit-for-tat murders in­volv­ing ri­val groups

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

SI­DON, Le­banon: A del­i­cate calm pre­vailed in south Le­banon’s Pales­tinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hil­weh Tues­day af­ter ten­sions soared fol­low­ing the murders of two men from ri­val groups.

Pales­tinian fac­tions agreed on the need to pre­serve peace in the camp, and the situation re­mained un­der con­trol amid a con­sen­sus be­tween sec­u­lar and Is­lamic groups, in­clud­ing Shabab al-Mus­lim, to de­nounce re­cent in­ci­dents and re­move po­lit­i­cal cover from those threat­en­ing the camp’s sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity. Shabab al-Mus­lim’s mem­bers in­clude ad­her­ents of the ex­trem­ist groups Fatah al-Is­lam and Jund al-Sham.

“The situation is un­der con­trol so far. We will not al­low the camp to be dragged into in­ner con­flicts,” veteran Fatah of­fi­cial Maj. Gen. Mu­nir Maq­dah told The Daily Star.

The se­cu­rity situation col­lapsed Mon­day, af­ter tit-for-tat killings es­ca­lated be­tween mem­bers of Fatah al-Is­lam and the Fatah Move­ment.

Fatah al-Is­lam mem­ber Omar Na­tour killed Ab­del-Rah­man Qe­blawi of the Fatah Move­ment. Un­known armed men sub­se­quently murdered Na­tour’s brother, Mah­moud, in what ap­peared to be a revenge killing.

The Pales­tinian fac­tions’ po­si­tion was re­it­er­ated by the Higher Pales­tinian Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee, which agreed to fully in­ves­ti­gate the is­sue and tasked the joint elite forces with find­ing and ar­rest­ing Qe­blawi and Mah­moud’s killers.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Is­lamic Os­bat al-An­sar and the Is­lamic Ji­had move­ment re­port­edly com­mu­ni­cated with a num­ber of Shabab al-Mus­lim of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Ousama She­habi, who said he wel­comed the Higher Com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sion.

She­habi an­nounced that Na­tour and any oth­ers proven to have had a hand in the dis­pute will not ben­e­fit from po­lit­i­cal cover.

Ac­cord­ing to Pales­tinian sources, Shabab al-Mus­lim’s de­ci­sion demon­strates that the group does not ob­ject to Na­tour’s ar­rest and in­ter­ro­ga­tion.

But the at­mos­phere of cau­tion was in­ter­rupted Tues­day by spo­radic shootouts and grenade toss­ing. Sniper fire left Pales­tinian Chadi Khatib wounded.

Shops and schools closed their doors in an­tic­i­pa­tion of any de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the situation, and the camp’s streets saw only lim­ited traf­fic.

Ain al-Hil­weh has been re­peat­edly rocked by gun vi­o­lence and clashes be­tween ri­val fac­tions. It is also home to a num­ber of ex­trem­ist mil­i­tant groups.

The es­ca­la­tion of events in Le­banon’s largest Pales­tinian refugee camp has prompted of­fi­cials to at­tempt to con­tain the situation.

Pales­tinian and Le­banese of­fi­cials have been fol­low­ing up on the situation, as de­vel­op­ments in Ain al-Hil­weh could im­pact Si­don or other neigh­bor­ing ar­eas.

Si­don MP Bahia Hariri vis­ited the Si­don Serail where she met with Gover­nor of the South Man­sour Daou and the In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Force’s chief in south Le­banon Brig. Gen. Samir She­hadeh.

The of­fi­cials dis­cussed the situation in Si­don and ways to per­verse its se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity as well as the lat­est in­ci­dent in Ain al-Hil­weh. They agreed on the im­por­tance of con­tin­u­ing ef­forts to con­tain the situation.

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