SIDON, Lebanon: The latest developments in Iraq have sped up the deployment of elite security forces in the troubled Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in south Lebanon, with moves expected to be made before the holy month of Ramadan begins.
“The dangerous developments in the region, especially in Iraq, have required the accelerated deployment of the elite Palestinian force in Ain al-Hilweh, as there are fears of the repercussions these developments might have in Lebanon and the camps,” a high-ranking Palestinian official told The Daily Star.
But according to head of the Islamic Jihadist Movement Sheikh Jamal Khattab, the distance between Iraq and Lebanon is one factor keeping fears of spillover at bay, as have vows made by Palestinian camps to distance themselves from the Syrian conflict.
Palestinian factions put the final touches on the deployment of the 150-member force at a Hamas office Tuesday.
The factions may also hold further meetings until the deployment, expected to begin by the end of next week, according to sources present at Tuesday’s meeting.
Ain al-Hilweh has been the site of repeated assassinations, clashes and security incidents over the past several months.
Following the clashes, the Palestinian factions agreed to form the security force, which will include members from the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Alliance of Palestinian Factions, Islamist forces and some from Ansar Ullah. Deployment, however, has been marred by delays.
According to the high-ranking official, the current regional crises will also lead to push for the adoption of the Memorandum of Understanding, which was signed by the Palestinian factions in March and aims to insulate Palestinian refugee camps from Lebanese conflicts and the crisis in neighboring Syria.
The rest of the articles in the document will be dealt with in coordination with Palestinian officials and Lebanese authorities, the official said.
He warned, however, that those behind the assassinations and security incidents remained anonymous and at large, meaning danger still loomed over the camp.
The first stage of deployment entails deploying members in the camp’s main neighborhoods, especially those that have repeatedly witnessed security incidents. The force will be comprised of guards and patrolmen, an intervention force, traffic police, an investigation force and prison guards, as well as other teams.
The elite force also aims at maintaining calm and stability in the camp, preventing assassinations, and pursuing the perpetrators as well as bringing them to justice.
According to Khattab, there were many attempts to link the Palestinian refugee camps, especially Ain al-Hilweh, with Al-Qaeda and its affiliate groups, whether the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria or the Nusra Front.
He stressed that there were no Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups operating in the refugee camp.
“If they were, it would have been made public through operations and the like, especially since the Syrian and Iraqi arenas are the group’s main ground, so their presence in the Lebanese camps and especially Ain al-Hilweh is not necessary,” Khattab told The Daily Star.
He also said that while many individuals shared the same ideals as Al-Qaeda, the issue was how these groups were formed, a phenomenon that he said was “nonexistent even in Lebanon as a whole.”
“The priority of our Palestinian people and Palestinian Islamist groups is Palestine, and not toward this country’s or another’s inner conflicts, especially as every country has its own concerns and problems,” he said.
Khattab expressed his satisfaction with the current situation in Ain al-Hilweh, especially after the groups had articulated their wish for stability.
According to Jihad Taha, a member of the Hamas politburo in Lebanon, the party was keen on establishing stability across all of the Palestinian camps and cooperating with the Lebanese Army.
“We will allow no one, whoever he may be, to pursue schemes or plots that tamper with the Lebanese-Palestinian relationship, especially in the resistant south,” he stressed.
In this regard, a meeting was also held at the Zgheib police station Monday between the Army Intelligence branch in south Lebanon and a delegation of the Palestinian Islamist forces to discuss the special forces’ deployment.
The meeting included talks on the situation in the Palestinian camps in general and in Ain al-Hilweh in particular and the importance of working toward fortifying the camps and deploying the elite forces quickly.