RASHIDIEH, Lebanon: Although Palestinian residents of southern Lebanon are angry about the recent Israeli aggressions in Gaza, there appears to be little support for rockets being launched into the Jewish state from Lebanon, which locals and officials alike agree does not benefit their national cause. The Lebanese Army has been inspecting cars and trucks going into banana and citrus orchards in southern Lebanon as part of a plan put forth Tuesday to curb the smuggling of rockets, after roughly 10 were fired at Israel in less than a week.
The string of new checkpoints begins at the Tyre town of Qana, passes through the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidieh and ends at Naqoura.
The Army has intensified its efforts to track down the perpetrators of recent rocket attacks into Israel, which retaliated with a barrage of artillery fire on south Lebanon last week and earlier this week.
The Army said the investigation was ongoing and was being conducted in coordination with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon.
Two brothers suspected of having fired rockets into Israel from inside Lebanon have already been detained. According to Palestinian security sources, the Lebanese Army arrested Hussein Khraz and summoned his brother Khalil a few days earlier to be questioned, although this has been disputed by other sources.
Entering the Rashidieh camp involves waiting in long lines of traffic as a result of the strict security measures. While there are known to be several extremist and fundamentalist Palestinian factions in the camp, residents there were still surprised at the new security measures being enforced.
“Why is the spotlight on us? The rockets were launched from the neighboring Lebanese areas, and already the Lebanese Army is surrounding the camp, so how can we get a rocket in?” asked one resident, Nawal al-Issawi.
The camp, close to the Lebanese-Israeli border, is replete with pictures of dead Palestinian leaders.
Nearby, young boys play a game of cards, as others swim in a canal and try to catch river crabs to kill time.
“I see how children in Gaza are dying and the whole world is silent,” 10-year-old Sami Daher said. “ Israel bombed us two days ago and I hid under the bed. I don’t want to die like the children of Gaza.”
Abu Mohammad, a Palestinian national, sighed in frustration as he bemoaned the current situation. He is in his 70s, and admitted he used to launch Katyusha rockets from southern Lebanon toward Israel more than 34 years ago.
“This way is destructive and it does not do any good to us Palestinians to use it again,” he said.
But for a retired health worker with the Palestinian Red Crescent, who chose to remain anonymous, the Jewish state was an aggressor, and Lebanon had a right to fight back.
“We and Lebanon are in danger, whether we launch rockets or not,” he said.
But Maarouf Mohammad, a shopkeeper in the camp, disagreed, saying that attacking Israel with “absurd and useless rockets” would only bring misery to the people of the camp.
“Most of them do not reach Palestinian territories, but instead fall into Lebanon,” he said. “There are multiple ways to help our families in Gaza and Palestine, and the first is to go fight there.”
“There is no need to launch rockets since it is bad for us and for the neighboring areas,” he added, pointing to the difficulty residents of Rashidieh now had entering the camp as a result of the Army checkpoints and the intrusion of soldiers searching their belongings.
Khalil Moussa echoed Mohammad’s comments, and said he opposed any rocket launches conducted by one individual that were poorly thought out. Targeting Israel needed to be a well-planned scheme, and should not be done through haphazard rocket launches, he explained.
“I support any action against Israel, but not any subversive action such as launching rockets, which have a negative effect on southern Lebanon and the Palestinian camps,” he said.
“We have to remember that we are 17 kilometers away from the Lebanese-Israeli border, and we have gone through that experience ... in 1982, whereby rockets would launch from here toward Israel and it was a mess and political and military chaos,” he said. “I hope this doesn’t return.”
The Fatah Movement’s media officer in Tyre, Mohammad al-Bekaai, told The Daily Star that the party’s real work lay within Palestinian land and not in Lebanon, especially since the country was currently plagued with a deteriorating security situation. It was better for both Lebanon and the Palestinians if the battle remained within the Occupied Territories, he said.
“While the firing of rockets from south Lebanon toward Israel could have been done because of the sympathy of some, this sympathy does not serve the Palestinian cause at all,” Bekaai said, adding that there were many who wanted to create tensions in the camps and elsewhere.
“We tell the Lebanese state that we only want to be a safety valve for Lebanon,” he added.
Jihad Taha, a member of the Hamas political council in Lebanon, said the rocket launches were an individual action as a result of an emotional reaction regarding the deaths in Gaza.
Like Moussa, he said he was wary of a repeat of the events of 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon, as “it benefits neither the Palestinians nor the Lebanese, and our duty is to respect the sovereignty, constitution and the law regarding Lebanese-Palestinian relations.”
Taha explained there was no desire to turn Lebanon’s south into a military operation and that the Palestinian factions were making sure this would not happen. He stressed that the party stood firm alongside the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah.
“We have been cooperating with the Lebanese Army on the ground for a while, meaning anyone wanted by the Army who is involved or suspected to be involved in any security-related case is immediately handed over.
“There is no political cover for anyone regardless how high his position may be,” he explained.