SIDON, Lebanon: Dozens of masked gunmen deployed around entrances to the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in the early hours of Sunday morning, with a senior Fatah official stressing that this was part of efforts to preserve security in the camp.
It is unclear, however, what drove Maj. Gen. Munir Makdah, also known as Abu Hasan, to mobilize his group over the weekend, or who, if anyone, authorized him to do so.
Makdah’s men are not among the elite 150-member force which the disparate Palestinian factions agreed to deploy in the camp to restore security.
“These special units are part of the camp’s security plan and they have been agreed on by all the Palestinianfactions,” insisted Makdah. The gunmen, under his command, stood sentry around the derelict alleyways leading into the camp.
Ain al-Hilweh camp, which lies on the outskirts of Sidon, has been the site of repeated assassinations, clashes and security incidents over the past few months. The death of Fatah al-Islam official Alaa Ali Hujeir in May prompted clashes between the group and Fatah Movement gunmen in the camp during which at least seven were wounded.
Following the clashes, the Palestinian factions agreed to the elite security detachment, which is set to include members from the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Alliance of Palestinian Factions, the Islamist forces, and some from Ansar Ullah.
The formation of this multi-factional security force, however, has been beset by delays, and has not yet been deployed in the camp.
Makdah told The Daily Star the deployment of his men was “a continuation of the security forces’ role” in Ain al-Hilweh.
Rumors have spread in the camp that the Palestinian leadership is planning to install Maj. Gen. Subhi Abu Arab as the head of the Palestinian National Security Forces, despite the fact that Makdah had been vying for the position.
Makdah responded vaguely when asked whether or not the decision to do deploy his men was related to the disputed post. “It’s part of the security plan,” he repeated, without elaborating.
Sources in the camp, however, suggested Makdah’s move was intended to send a message to the PLO and Fatah authorities, to urge them to include his group in the forthcoming security plan.
For the past two years, Makdah has been working primarily with Palestinian refugees from Syria, and has been distanced from top Palestinian leadership positions, according to sources.
Meanwhile, Palestinian factions said over the weekend that they were maintaining the delicate security throughout camps in Lebanon.
“We are holding tight to the security and stability inside the Palestinian camps and maintaining their good relationship with the neighboring Lebanese population, particularly Ain al-Hilweh,” the factions said in a statement following their periodic meeting Saturday.
The factions also promised they were working to establish the security force, promising to “implement its deployment in the camp soon.”
In the statement, Lebanon’s Palestinian leadership called on the nation’s authorities to facilitate the entrance of Palestinian refugees from Syria into Lebanon, and to allow them to renew their passports just like Syrian refugees.
“The conditions that led to the displacement [of Palestinians and Syrians] are one and they apply to all refugees,” they said.
In May, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said that while no decision had been taken to prevent Palestinian refugees from Syria entering Lebanon, “certain measures” had been put in place.
Lebanese authorities have deported Palestinian refugees from Syria in recent months, and have denied access to others at the border. Humanitarian groups have roundly condemned deportations, which they call discriminatory.