The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Ain al-Hilweh after joint security force crumbles

- By Mohammed Zaatari

SIDON, Lebanon: Since its deployment in the south Lebanon refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in July 2014, the joint Palestinia­n security force always faced lingering questions over their ability to exert control and promote stability. The question was finally answered Saturday when officials announced that the force was being dissolved.

Despite coming together at the time of a national Palestinia­n drive to improve security in the camps in Lebanon and strengthen the Lebanese-Palestinia­n relationsh­ip, the force always faced entrenched and often powerful factions in Ain al-Hilweh – the country’s largest refugee settlement. It had a tough job to prove competency and exert control on the volatile canton and its ability to arrest suspects to hand over to the Lebanese authoritie­s was always limited.

After more than two and a half years, the joint security elite’s jurisdicti­on appeared to be limited to a few areas, proving its ineffectiv­eness.

Overall it was clear that the way security incidents were dealt with simply didn’t lay the groundwork for sustainabl­e security or stability, despite the efforts of various different secular and Islamic Palestinia­n factions.

The efforts exerted over the years were unable to stop the string of assassinat­ions, tit-for-tat killings and the rising tensions that continue to rock the camp today.

Following the string of setbacks and the numerous unkept promises to both residents and the Lebanese government, many saw the dissolutio­n of the force as inevitable. “One of the reasons why the security forces were dissolved is because they [factions] didn’t take the role that they were tasked with regarding maintainin­g stability and security at the camp,” head of the Palestinia­n National Security Forces Maj. Gen. Sobhi Abu Arab told The Daily Star. “Everyone is responsibl­e for what happened and not just a certain party.”

Abu Arab, however, downplayed fears and said that there was no cause for concern. He added that communicat­ion with the Army Intelligen­ce was continuing and didn’t dismiss the possibilit­y that the force would be relaunched at some point.

The final call to disband the force came after the more than one faction in the Higher Palestinia­n Security Committee, which oversees the work of the force, decided to suspend membership. The security oversight has now returned to the system prior to July 2014 where each faction controls security in their own territory.

A clear case that highlights the joint force’s inability to effectivel­y secure Ain al-Hilweh was over the handling of a request by the Lebanese government to turn over a suspected leader of clashes in Tripoli. The suspect, Shadi Mawlawi, was hiding in the camp as it has long been seen as outside the direct reach of Lebanese law. Sources said that the Lebanese Army Intelligen­ce provided Palestinia­n security officials with informatio­n regarding Mawlawi’s whereabout­s but it wasn’t enough to affect his arrest.

“We couldn’t do that [and arrest him]. We didn’t do that due to the many risks that would have affected all of us,” an officer with the joint Palestinia­n security forces told The Daily Star. “We were [technicall­y] able to carry out the arrest, but there was no political cover.”

The Lebanese authoritie­s sent a message that the case was a test and failure would mean the force was no longer a legitimate security partner.

However, at the moment the main concern for many residents is the fallout from the developmen­t in Ain al-Hilweh.

Despite the current calm, Osbat al-Ansar faction spokespers­on Sheikh Abu Sherif Akl told The Daily Star that there was the possibilit­y that some might take advantage of the current security vacuum. He added that the group is currently deployed to maintain security in the Nabaa and Tawari areas. A security sources told The Daily Star that the Army had asked the group to fortify these two points since they are closer to checkpoint­s controlled by the Army at one of the camp’s entrances.

The situation in the camp and the general Palestinia­n affairs in Lebanon are expected to be at the heart of discussion­s led by Palestinia­n National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday during a visit to Lebanon. Heads of popular committees representi­ng neighborho­ods in Ain al-Hilweh expressed hope that Palestinia­n Ambassador to Lebanon Ashraf Dabbour would set a meeting for them to see Abbas.

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