Ain al-Hilweh after joint security force crumbles
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.