SIDON, Lebanon: The Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in south Lebanon looks no different than other towns and neighborhoods across Lebanon: different flags of World Cup teams flutter from balconies, alongside Palestinian and Lebanese ones.
The vegetable market has been more bustling recently, an indication that the security situation is stabilizing – for now. Residents say they are still waiting for the deployment of the newly formed Palestinian elite forces since the plan was announced in March.
“We are Switzerland,” says Abu Mohammad Rushi, a vegetable vendor at the market, laughing heartily as he explains how the troubled camp is finally witnessing “nice days.”
“But we have been waiting for the promise of security for two months,” he adds.
An elite security force made up of approximately 150 members from all Palestinian factions is set to be deployed at the camp in order to restore security following a recent series of security incidents and assassinations. But residents are expressing fear that troubled times will return, so long as the deployment of the forces is delayed.
“We fear more dead or wounded here and there, this silence scares us,” Khaled, who chose not to give his last name, told The Daily Star.
Secretary of the Palestinian Popular Committee Abed Maqdah explained that the force would soon be deployed once specifics like location and distribution are decided upon, and other details are finalized.
He told The Daily Star that the delay was not intentional, but was a result of efforts to ensure that the organization of the elite forces follows the formation of a committee comprised of all Palestinian factions.
The elite force is being formed as a result of a collective decision by Palestinian factions to quell unrest in the camp, which last month culminated in violent clashes between the followers of Bilal Badr, who led Fatah al-Islam, and supporters of Talal Urduni, who himself was the target of an assassination attempt on May 20.
The force will include 75 members of the Palestine Liberation Organization, 40 from the Alliance of Palestinian Factions, 20 from the Islamist forces, and 15 from Ansar Ullah.
It will aim to prevent assassinations and apprehend perpetrators, address crimes on the ground, work on the prevention of security incidents, divert traffic, conduct investigations, install security cameras, handle the files of wanted men in cooperation with Lebanese security forces, handle non-refugee newcomers’ files, and conduct raids.
Its members will be deployed at six different headquarters.
But a monthly budget of just $40,000 has been allocated for the force, which requires $70,000, Maqdah said.
“What is important is that this force has Lebanese political and security cover, from the Lebanese state,” he added.
A source with the Palestinian Islamist forces told The Daily Star that the group remains cautious about the force’s deployment and is waiting to finalize matters with members of Jund al-Sham and Fatah al-Islam, known as the Muslim Youth.
He said the deployment may be announced Tuesday following a meeting between both groups.
Islamist Osama Shehabi, head of Fatah al-Islam, sat down over the weekend with members of the Jund al-Sham, the first such initiative launched with the aim to raise a white flag toward opposing parties in the camp.
“In the name of Fatah al-Islam in Ain al-Hilweh, we have signed a truce ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, to not be drawn into fighting or engaging in clashes in the camp, no matter the price,” Shehabi announced, in the presence of a number of civil society activists and anti-violence groups at the Arab Zbid Hall.
The initiative was welcomed by several Palestinian factions, including those affiliated with their rivals, the Fatah Movement.
Earlier this month, a Palestinian member of Fatah al-Islam, Alaa Ali Hujeir, was shot in the camp and later died of his wounds. Weeks before, Ali Khalil, one of Badr’s bodyguards, was shot in the head. He too died of his wounds.
Fatah al-Islam has accused the Fatah Movement of being behind the assassination of Hujeir. The Fatah Movement denies any involvement.
“The previous incidents and clashes were in self-defense, or sometimes because someone close to us had died,” he explained, holding other groups accountable for provocations.