SIDON/BEIRUT: Leading terrorist figures residing in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh are plotting attacks against the Lebanese Army in Sidon, according to security sources, information that has prompted the military establishment to take precautionary measures.
However, the sources told The Daily Star Tuesday that Ain al-Hilweh would not witness large-scale clashes between the Army and terrorists similar to the summer 2007 fighting between Lebanese troops and Fatah al-Islam in the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.
The sources, familiar with the situation in Ain al-Hilweh, told The Daily Star that the Lebanese Army was capable of dealing a strong blow to the masterminds of the terrorist groups in the camp.
The sources said that Army Intelligence had general information about terrorist groups in the camp and definite information on three or four leading figures that were planning bomb attacks against the Army in the Sidon area.
According to the sources, the figures are Palestinian nationals living in Ain al-Hilweh and in the adjacent Taamir neighborhood, particularly in the part not under the direct control of Lebanese authorities.
Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon have been under the control of local Palestinian factions since the 1970s.
The sources said that these figures were not among those whose names have already been circulated in the media and that the men did not know each other. Each of them heads one or two groups that have carried out terrorist acts.
The sources said the Lebanese Army was able to restrict the movement of the individuals within the camp. The sources said the terrorists were almost as dangerous as Naim Abbas, a leading member of the Al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades group who was arrested by the Lebanese Army last week.
According to the sources, the heads of most groups in Ain al-Hilweh called the reports “mere fabrications by security services.”
The sources said Palestinian factions used to deny that Abbas lived in Ain al-Hilweh or that he was alive in the first place. It has since transpired that Abbas lived in Ain al-Hilweh for a long time.
According to the sources, the Army Intelligence and other security services have been improving their intelligence capabilities inside the camp and now have a number of agents across Ain Al-Hilweh who work with them to gather information and pursue terrorists.
The sources attributed this unprecedented cooperation by residents of the camp to the fact that they recognized the importance of assisting the Army in order to prevent future security incidents.
The sources said that even some leading officials in Palestinian factions in Ain al-Hilweh were passing information to the Lebanese Army but warned that the military was not relying on them too much.
The sources said they were certain none of the rigged cars that exploded in the wave of bombings which have rocked Lebanon recently had been prepared in Ain al-Hilweh, pointing to the lack of appropriate places in the camp that could be used to rig a car with explosives. Unfamiliar vehicles were easily detected in the camp, they added.
In light of the information, the Army has beefed up security at all its posts in Sidon, at the entrances to Ain al-Hilweh and in parts of Taamir in order to prevent attacks.
The sources said that the Army could further restrict camp access to two entrances rather than the four currently used but that this was not a priority at the moment as the military establishment did not want to appear as if it were punishing the camp’s residents.
A rumor is circulating in the camp that the fiancee of Islamist Bilal Badr, a former member of Fatah al-Islam who lives in Ain al-Hilweh, has been telling people that he is going to attack the Army in retaliation for Abbas’ arrest. However, these threats are not taken as serious, as there is no link between Badr and Abbas, who are not believed to even know each other.
Separately, the Army Thursday will carry out drills in the Jezzine village of Kfar Falous involving live ammunition. The maneuvers will simulate a raid on abandoned buildings in the village to arrest members of terrorist groups. They will involve helicopters and landing operations.