SIDON, Lebanon: An internal rift in the Palestinian Fatah movement broke out into the open in Lebanon this week, threatening the party’s unity.
Fatah’s security chief in Lebanon denounced Monday an apparent call by a rival faction for an internal coup that sought to reform Fatah’s leadership and remove the Palestinian ambassador.
Maj. Gen. Sobhi Abu Arab, Fatah’s head of national security, said all disputes should be settled within the party framework, in a meeting of top security officials in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Sidon.
He was responding to a statement issued over the weekend by a group of Fatah officers claiming they were led by Brig. Gen. Mahmoud Abdel-Hamid Issa, better known as “Lino,” head of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Armed Struggle in Lebanon.
The statement denounced what it said was endemic corruption in Fatah, saying its leaders had “prostituted the struggle and humiliated the strugglers,” transforming it from a liberation movement to “groups of mercenaries, fighting over everything except serving our Palestinian people in the camps.”
The officers criticized Fatah’s leadership for not assisting Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria and for “abdicating responsibility” in protecting the Palestinian camps from extremists.
The statement also directly criticized the Palestinian leadership in Lebanon, calling the appointment of Palestinian Ambassador Ashraf Dabbour “an insult to the Palestinian refugees.”
The officers demanded Dabbour’s recall, the severing of the link between Fatah and the Palestinian mission to Lebanon, scrutiny of Fatah’s finances and the firing new Palestinian envoy to Lebanon Azzam al-Ahmad.
The statement was “categorically denied” by Lino about 20 hours later.
“We reaffirm that these statements ... are devoid of the truth and aim to spread strife and incitement among the Palestinian people,” the statement said.
Lino, who has a long history in the Palestinian security apparatus in the refugee camps, did not attend a major meeting of top Palestinian security officials in the Ain al-Hilweh camp which was chaired by Abu Arab.
Lino was removed from his position as the leader of the Palestinian security forces in Lebanon after their dissolution by President Mahmoud Abbas and the formation of a new national security force.
He opened a direct line of communication with Mohammad Dahlan, the former top Fatah official in Gaza who was expelled from the party, who began disbursing assistance to the Palestinians in Lebanon under the supervision of Lino.
Dahlan is a longtime rival of Abbas, whose supporters accused him of orchestrating Arafat’s murder.
Aid sponsored by Dahlan was delivered during the month of Ramadan, when Lino distributed food packages worth $100 each to over 95 percent of the Palestinian population in Lebanon.
Syrian Palestinian refugees received packages each containing food worth $150.
Lino publicly stated at the time that the aid was distributed via his wife and an Emirati government official.
Abu Arab spoke out in defense of Fatah before a congregation of 50 officers from the different Lebanese areas and camps.
The meeting included the higher echelons of the Fatah military establishment, leaders of the various military zones, brigades and units.
“This meeting is for the unity of this movement,” said Abu Arab, who added that the meeting of top security officials would now take place every month.
Abu Arab said the meeting would allow local security officials to remain aware of the Arab and international political situation and its effects on the Palestinian cause.
Abu Arab said that independent media narratives are damaging the Palestinian cause.
“The press statements, and what is written on the Internet, everybody now has Internet and writes there with libel or praise,” he said at the meeting. “This talk does not serve the Palestinian cause, but serves those who want to target this giant movement.”
Abu Arab said any problems should be dealt with internally, declining to specifically name Lino.
“The situation has reached insults in press statements,” he said. “It is shameful for us to reach this level of baseness and silliness.”
Munir al-Maqdah, a Fatah official who was not at the meeting, told The Daily Star that any criticism of the movement should occur within its institutional framework.
“It is true that there are mistakes, but they should be discussed inside the Fatah house because press statements and rival statements could cause strife,” Maqdah said.
“ Fatah will not be led into strife because it is unified, and the factions are holding on to the Palestinian cause and positive neutrality toward Arab issues and the Lebanese and Syrian situation,” he added.
Sources close to the Palestinian camps confirmed to The Daily Star that Lino had conducted several meetings with Palestinians in refugee camps in Beirut, north Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, and managed to cause a rift within Fatah, attracting several officials to his cause.
Many of these officials were able to reach a large number of fighters, in particular those in the Beddawi and Al-Jalil refugee camps in north Lebanon and Baalbek.
Lino’s presence has been strengthened through his cash disbursements. The source warned of the dangers of Dahlan gaining influence and control over the camps.
Dozens of gunmen loyal to Fatah were deployed in Ain al-Hilweh to provide security in the camp ahead of the meeting.
Fatah still provides social and educational assistance to Palestinians, including those in the camps, retaining influence for the party in the camps. The assistance exceeds that provided by its rival Hamas.
A meeting was held at the Palestinian Embassy in Beirut to discuss the rift within Fatah. Palestinian sources say the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah will be briefed on the infighting and will look into solutions for the issue.
Fatah is losing its status as the premier organization within the PLO, having suffered internal rifts and infighting that has plagued it since the 1970s, and which only remained under control until the death of its founder and leader Yasser Arafat.
Azzam al-Ahmad is the new official in charge of Palestinian issues in Lebanon with a direct line to Abbas, and he is expected to visit Lebanon soon to resolve a number of issues.
Palestinian sources say that Ahmad will have to visit before the end of the month in order to address the rifts within Fatah.