Ain al-Hil­weh af­ter joint se­cu­rity force crum­bles

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LE­BANON - 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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