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Palestinian unity deal brings little comfort to Lebanese refugee camps

Palestinian school children walk in front of the UNRWA offices at the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh near Sidon, Thursday, April 24, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

SIDON, Lebanon: For Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, the reconciliation forged between leaders from the rival Fatah and Hamas movements in Palestine’s Gaza Wednesday was greeted as an overdue prescription for a festering wound.

Pervasive fears over the security situation in the camps in the southern city of Sidon hindered any feelings of joy at the news. Refugees have remained anxious of security breaches and assassinations, incidents that have recently escalated and are taking a toll on daily life.

Aside from security concerns, most suspect the reconciliation is a mere formality and will not actually be implemented.

In the Palestinian refugee camps in south Lebanon, the lack of cheer was clear; there were no parties, no happy gatherings, not even a congratulatory banner. In Ain al-Hilweh, as in Mieh Mieh, residents were still mourning the deaths of the victims of recent assassinations and the latest security incidents.

The Palestine Liberation Organization – internationally recognized as the sole representative of the Palestinian people – and the Islamist Hamas Movement that rules Gaza, agreed to form a national consensus government within weeks Wednesday, angering the U.S. and Israel.

Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon are concerned by three matters: providing education for youth and finding medical care for the family, on top of security.

Palestinians are interested in the possible effects the reconciliation might have on the Palestinian diaspora, the fortification of security in refugee camps, the possibility of obtaining civil and human rights, and the right of return.

According to some Palestinian officials, reconciliation would give impetus to the unified Palestinian initiative in Lebanon.

A memorandum of understanding with 19 points was signed by Palestinian factions last month and addresses the various aspects of the political, legal and security issues pertaining to Palestinians in Lebanon, and spells out the duties of both the Lebanese and the Palestinian authorities.

In parallel, the appointment of former Education Minister Hasan Mneimneh as head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee last week was greeted with wide acclaim in Palestinian circles. The committee’s work will begin next Monday at the Grand Serail with a meeting between different Palestinian factions in Lebanon.

According to Salah Youssef, a member of the Palestine Liberation Front in Lebanon and the Palestinian National Council, the reconciliation “was met with relief by Palestinians everywhere, especially in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Lebanese camps.”

He also said the deal was a hopeful indication of things to come.

“The Palestinian people are always looking toward national Palestinian unity to be able to face all of the aggressions on Palestinian lands,” Youssef said.

Asked about the lack of joyful celebration in the camps of Lebanon, he acknowledged that this was due to the deteriorating security situation, especially in Ain al-Hilweh.

Fatah’s Secretary-General in Sidon, Brig. Gen. Maher Shbaiteh, said his movement “gave its blessing” to the reconciliation.

“We have been saying for years there should be an end to Palestinian division, which benefits only Israelis and Americans, and in this context there needs to be reconciliation, because division means the division of the Palestinian people, and it damages the Palestinian cause as it divides the land and the people,” Shbaiteh told The Daily Star.

He also said there was “great relief” within the camps and in Lebanon as a whole.

Meanwhile, a Hamas official in the Sidon area, Abu Ahmad Fadel, said his party welcomed the reconciliation, adding that there needed to be a unified Palestinian strategy to face the occupation of Palestine.

According to Fadel, Israel and the United States were angered by the reconciliation because they were against Palestinian unity.

“But we as Hamas are intent on implementing the reconciliation agreement, ending the division and working on lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and on one unified strategy to face the Zionist occupation.”

Some residents of the camp also expressed their delight, and said they hoped the reconciliation would bring about the right of return and the formation of a nation.

“We consider that we have put the first step on the road to victory and we say that it’s in the interest of the Palestinian people and it enrages the Jews,” Haitham al-Khatib told The Daily Star.

For Umm Chadi Fadel, a Fatah partisan, this was a time of celebration. Congratulating her neighbor, a Hamas supporter, Umm Chadi sang joyously and said: “Our blood is for one another and if we don’t stand by each other, who will stand by us?”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 25, 2014, on page 4.

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Summary

For Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, the reconciliation forged between leaders from the rival Fatah and Hamas movements in Palestine's Gaza Wednesday was greeted as an overdue prescription for a festering wound.

Palestinians are interested in the possible effects the reconciliation might have on the Palestinian diaspora, the fortification of security in refugee camps, the possibility of obtaining civil and human rights, and the right of return.

According to some Palestinian officials, reconciliation would give impetus to the unified Palestinian initiative in Lebanon.

A memorandum of understanding with 19 points was signed by Palestinian factions last month and addresses the various aspects of the political, legal and security issues pertaining to Palestinians in Lebanon, and spells out the duties of both the Lebanese and the Palestinian authorities.

A Hamas official in the Sidon area, Abu Ahmad Fadel, said his party welcomed the reconciliation, adding that there needed to be a unified Palestinian strategy to face the occupation of Palestine.

According to Fadel, Israel and the United States were angered by the reconciliation because they were against Palestinian unity.


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