Fragile peace holds in Ain al-Hilweh
Tensions run high after tit-for-tat murders involving rival groups
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.