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Elite Palestinian force makes headway in Ain al-Hilweh

A Palestinian boy carries a toy gun as he participates in a Hamas rally in support of Gaza, in the southern city of Tyre, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

SIDON, Lebanon: The deployment of the elite Palestinian forces in the southern camp of Ain al-Hilweh has served to curb numerous crimes, security sources told The Daily Star. More than a month has passed since the deployment of the 150-member strong security force, and the situation in Lebanon’s largest refugee camp has been relatively stable as a result, sources agreed.

As the forces have successfully taken control of the camp, residents have agreed not to countenance the presence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in their quarters.

However, the group’s ideology has attracted young men in the camp, who would like to see the caliphate it promises materialize. The latter don’t comprise a cohesive group and are unlikely to have much of an impact, sources in the camp said.

According to informed sources, the elite forces have been closely monitoring such individuals to make sure their movements don’t exceed admiration for ISIS.

Sources also told The Daily Star that all Islamic Palestinian factions, including radical ones, have been fully cooperating with the Lebanese authorities over security issues.

Hamas has been playing a major role in maintaining stability in Ain al-Hilweh, as it now controls security and financial matters. It has also come a long way to establish good relations with Hezbollah.

Notably, Al-Shabab al-Muslim, a new group made up of former members of Jund al-Sham and Fatah al-Islam, have been controlling just a few of the camp’s neighborhoods. On several occasions they threatened to obstruct the work of the elite force.

However, Hamas stepped in and threatened to use force against them, compelling them to tone down their menaces.

According to a security source, a Hamas official convened a meeting with a number of Palestinian jihadist groups and asked them not to be involved in external incidents.

The official emphasized that no faction was willing to use weapons or engage in clashes in Lebanon.

According to the source, the official said Hamas would be harsh with fundamentalist movements, adding that it would not hesitate to attack Salafists in the camp if they broke the movement’s rules.

Nevertheless, sources within the camp said that some Al-Qaeda members are still present in Ain al-Hilweh camp, including Bahaa al-Deen Hujeir, who is wanted by the Lebanese authorities.

For their part, Lebanese security sources explained that three days ago an unknown assailant set a book on fire and threw it at a checkpoint in the Taamir neighborhood, by the camp’s entrance.

According to the sources, such a move aimed at creating strife between the Army and Islamists. However, Ain al-Hilweh’s Islamic factions were well aware that the move was concocted to create problems with the military.

The Lebanese security forces also revealed that they managed, in collaboration with numerous informants, to locate illicit weapons and explosives that were hidden in warehouses in the camp.

In all, the deployment of the elite forces has served to improve the people’s trust in the camp’s leadership.

Many residents said they were willing to join the Hamas movement and withdraw their membership from other Palestinian ones.

The movement has, in recent years, been spending money on social services and bolstering educational opportunities and offering financial aid to those in need of surgery.

Sources in the camp said that during meetings Hamas officials have been invoking the Gazan war as a means to remind Palestinians about their original cause and enemy, Israel.

With Israeli aggression in Gaza ongoing, Hamas was able to raise thousands of dollars from mosques and hold protests in Ain al-Hilweh.

Informed sources added that Hamas’ activities had dramatically strengthened the last protest organized by Palestinian factions in Tyre.

Separately, the Future Movement in the south held a meeting Tuesday with a delegation of the Palestinian National Security Forces at their headquarters in Sidon.

South Lebanon coordinator for the Future Movement Nasser Hammoud praised the work of the forces in maintaining stability in the Ain al-Hilweh.

“This has had a positive impact on the camp and Sidon, since they’re both part of one,” Hamoud said after the meeting.

“Gen. Sobhi Abu Arab assured us that the security situation in the camp is stable and that the Palestinian forces are in full control.”

For his part, Abu Arab, who heads the Palestinian National Security Forces, said he had briefed Hamoud the latest updates from the camp.

Also, a delegation from Hezbollah, headed by Sheikh Abdul Majeed Amar, visited a number of Sidon officials including the city’s Mayor Mohammad Saudi, Sidon Mufti Sheikh Salim Sousan and the head of Popular Nasserite Organization Osama Saad to follow-up on the latest developments after the clashes in Arsal.

For his part, Saudi believed that the relationship between Hezbollah and Sidon would remain strong, despite their differences.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 20, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

The deployment of the elite Palestinian forces in the southern camp of Ain al-Hilweh has served to curb numerous crimes, security sources told The Daily Star.

According to the source, the official said Hamas would be harsh with fundamentalist movements, adding that it would not hesitate to attack Salafists in the camp if they broke the movement's rules.

Nevertheless, sources within the camp said that some Al-Qaeda members are still present in Ain al-Hilweh camp, including Bahaa al-Deen Hujeir, who is wanted by the Lebanese authorities.

In all, the deployment of the elite forces has served to improve the people's trust in the camp's leadership.

Sources in the camp said that during meetings Hamas officials have been invoking the Gazan war as a means to remind Palestinians about their original cause and enemy, Israel.

"Gen. Sobhi Abu Arab assured us that the security situation in the camp is stable and that the Palestinian forces are in full control".

For his part, Abu Arab, who heads the Palestinian National Security Forces, said he had briefed Hamoud the latest updates from the camp.


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