The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Fragile peace holds in Ain al-Hilweh

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

- 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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