BEIRUT: The Fatah Movement began its third general conference in Jnah Sunday to elect new members for the party’s Lebanon branch, with 50 candidates competing for 15 posts.
The conference, named after prominent Palestinian leader Abu Ali Iyad, was held at the Palestinian Embassy in the Beirut neighborhood of Jnah. The conference is held every two years to elect members of the party’s general secretariat in Lebanon.
There are already around 163 members in the Lebanese Regional Council who were elected by Fatah members from camps in Sidon, Tyre, the Bekaa Valley and north Lebanon.
Strong Fatah figures have been competing for positions in the general secretariat. Among them are incumbent General Secretary Rifaat Shanaa, Toufic Abdullah, the son in law of Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon Ashraf Dabbour and Riad Abu al-Aynayn the son of Central Committee member Sultan Abul Aynayn – formerly Fatah’s most senior official in Lebanon, who now resides in Ramallah.
The conference was attended by Azzam al-Ahmad, Central Committee member for Ramallah, who is responsible for Lebanon, and Jamal Moheissen, head of Fatah’s organizational official for foreign branches.
Also attending were Samir al-Rifaei, Fatah’s representative in Syria, in addition to officials and guests from other Palestinian factions, such as Hamas’ representative in Lebanon Ali Baraka.
The conference was inaugurated by a number of speeches that stressed the importance of safeguarding the Palestinian cause and emphasizing the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
The conference was held amid strict security measures and guests were not allowed to bring their mobile phones inside the embassy and were thoroughly searched before entering.
“We should shoulder our responsibilities during these tough times and protect the camps,” Ahmad said during the conference. “We know that the situation in Syria is difficult and that we couldn’t protect the Yarmouk camp, but ongoing efforts are relentless to protect what is left of it, so the residents of the camp can return to their homes.”
“We don’t want to replay the tragedy of what happened in Nahr al-Bared. It is a painful memory,” he said, referring to fighting in 2007 between the Army and militants from the Islamist group Fatah al-Islam in the northern Lebanese refugee camp. Four hundred people were killed in the fighting, including 160 military personnel, and the camp was nearly destroyed.
“Until today we have safeguarded our unity and our camps thanks to the cooperation among all Palestinian factions,” he added. “We reject all forms of fanaticism from some Palestinians. We have no conflict with any Palestinian faction in the camp, but we won’t allow, under any pretext whether religious or any other, to drag the camp to a place that doesn’t serve the Palestinian agenda and doesn’t serve Lebanon.”
“Developing the mechanisms and the structure of Fatah in Lebanon ... is ongoing. And the conference is being held today to revive the movement and elect a leader for the organizational work of the Fatah Movement in Lebanon,” Ahmad told The Daily Star.
“This conference is being held to stress Fatah’s commitment to implementing the party’s internal regulations and reinforcing the democratic work of the party, so that we are able to confront the challenges facing the Palestinian cause in general and the Lebanese context in particular,” he added.
The conference comes in the wake of a series of security incidents in the southern Lebanese camp of Ain al-Hilweh, during which several bodyguards for Fatah official Mahmoud Issa were targeted by gunfire.
Issa, known as Lino, was demoted by Fatah in October after a group of officers affiliated with him accused the movement of corruption.
Referring to his decision to discipline the prominent official, Ahmad said: “Fatah has no room for those who don’t abide by its rules, discipline, policies and the instructions of its leaders, not in Lebanon nor in Palestine.”
Rumors have also been circulating linking certain refugee camps, notably Burj al-Barajneh and Ain al-Hilweh, to the bombs and security incidents that have rocked Lebanon in the past few months, especially after the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Palestinian Salafist movement with links to Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the blasts outside the Iranian Embassy in November.
The attack in the Bir Hasan neighborhood of Beirut killed 30 people and wounded scores more.