Ain al-Hilweh residents hold overnight protest over scanners
BEIRUT: Hundreds of Ain al-Hilweh residents Tuesday held an overnight protest against the metal detectors recently installed at the main entrances to the refugee camp, calling for the scanners to be removed.
One of the protest leaders, Sheikh Bassem Kayed of the Association of Palestinian Religious Scholars in Lebanon, called on Grand Mufti Abdel-Latif Derian to exert “pressure to remove these electronic gates, which humiliate Palestinians.”
The gates were set up earlier this week by the Lebanese Army in the latest of a series of measures to ramp up security at the camp.
Demonstrators said they took care to avoid passing by Army checkpoints on the camp’s borders to prevent any tensions with the Army, which by convention does not enter Palestinian camps. Scanners were also reportedly set up at the nearby Mieh Mieh camp, which lies just outside the southern city of Sidon. The move has already led to a wave of resistance earlier this week, with both secular and religious factions calling for the scanners’ swift removal.
Amid growing resistance to the scanners, a security source told The Daily Star that they believe the scanners are an improvement since he said previously Palestinians had objected to manual inspection upon entry and exit from the camp.
“Why are [the Palestinians] trying to make this bigger than it is, and why do [they] insist on describing the [scanners] as humiliating?” the source asked.
He said the added gates fell within the parameters of preserving the security of the camp and the surrounding neighborhood. According to the source, the same types of scanners had been set up across Lebanon at airports, embassies and malls.
However, the protestors are showing no sign of letting up. The installation last year of similar metal detectors in Jerusalem near the entrance of the Al-Aqsa Mosque sparked one of the bloodiest periods in the holy city for years.
They were removed after sustained protest. Kayed Tuesday called for the camp’s residents to continue exercising their right to protest until the scanners, “rejected by the Palestinian people in their entirety, are removed.”
Controversy over the scanners is the latest local reaction to increased security measures around Ain al-Hilweh. Fugitives and extremists have used the camp as a hideout and in November 2016, the Army began erecting concrete barriers on the camp’s perimeter to separate it from surrounding areas.
The move was initially met with resistance from a number of Islamist groups in the camp. Several hundred Palestinian refugees took to the streets then to decry what they called “the racist separation wall,” likening it to the multi-hundred-kilometer wall Israel has constructed in the occupied West Bank.
The Army, however, insisted the wall would not negatively impact the camp, as it would retain its six legitimate entry points.
The same types of scanners had been set up across Lebanon at airports, embassies and malls.