SIDON, Lebanon: Hamas has launched a campaign to discourage potential suicide bombers in Lebanese camps, with the aim of preventing Palestinian involvement in terrorist attacks and fostering greater cooperation with the Army.
The campaign, which denounces the recent spate of car bombs and urges Palestinians to hand over anyone suspected of involvement in terrorist plots, comes in the wake of renewed efforts by the party to reopen communication channels with Hezbollah after relations cooled over their opposing positions on Syria.
Mahmoud Taha, Hamas’ media official in the southern Tyre region, told The Daily Star the campaign was meant to strengthen the Lebanese-Palestinian relationship.
The strife being seen in Lebanon recently “only serves the Israeli enemy and its tools,” Taha said.
He called for Palestinians to uphold stability in “brotherly Lebanon,” and ensure that their “compass is only directed toward Palestine.”
In camps across Lebanon, paintings and banners have been put up, all emblazoned with phrases such as, “Together we resist for liberation and return,” and “Our security stems from your security, no to explosions, no to strife, no to sedition.”
In Ain al-Hilweh, one of the biggest Palestinian refugee camps in the country, housewife Mariam Shbayte points to a phrase graffitied on a wall: “The camp is better this way.”
“It is better without terrorism, without fighting,” she said. “We should cooperate with the Lebanese government and hand over the criminals, they should be responsible for their actions.”
But not everyone is on board with Hamas’ message.
Despite repeated demands by the Lebanese Army to hand over those wanted for suspected involvement in terrorist crimes, Palestinian camp faction leaders are not cooperating, citing their inability to protect themselves from the consequences.
A Hamas official in the Sidon area, Abu Ahmad Fadel-Taha, confirmed to The Daily Star that the Army has made several requests regarding Palestinians implicated in recent attacks.
“The Lebanese Army has the data and the evidence for their involvement,” Fadel-Taha said.
One of the few Palestinians who have been arrested on such charges is Naim Abbas, but he was snatched from his Beirut home, not a camp. Since his arrest on Feb. 12, he has been charged in connection with the two Haret Hreik car bombings on Jan. 2 and Jan. 21, and with murder and attempted murder.
The camps, which are off-limits to the Army and have been controlled by local factions since the 1970s, are a very different matter. According to Taha, these factions do not have the capabilities to hand over anyone they want.
“And we cannot as Palestinians bear the consequences of reactions that destabilize the security situation,” he added, “because we will have to face the Islamists [and their reaction] inside the camp.”
As for why Palestinian men are putting themselves forward for terrorist operations, Taha points to the rampant unemployment in the camps. “We in Hamas have a program, which is not at its desirable size, to provide economic support by launching projects aimed at creating job opportunities, but this is not enough.”
Around 400,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, the overwhelming majority of whom are not legally allowed to work.
In its 2013 World Report, Human Rights Watch described them as living in “appalling social and economic conditions.”
Fadel-Taha added: “Successive governments that have given the Palestinian the right to work have not yet implemented it; it has remained ink on paper.”
The lack of will to cooperate with the Army is exacerbated by growing resentment in the camps toward the military over its increased policing of camps’ entry and exit points.
Last week, Palestinian leaders complained of the strict security measures imposed by the Army at the entrance of Ain al-Hilweh, highlighting in particular the way women were being strip searched. The Army has since introduced a rule to ensure female soldiers search women, but it has refused to relinquish the new checks.
Regardless, Hamas is redoubling efforts to improve relations with both the Army and Hezbollah.
Taha said a delegation of Palestinian factions paid condolences to the Lebanese Army over the Feb. 22 suicide car bombing in the northeastern city of Hermel that targeted an Army checkpoint, describing the meeting as “positive.”
He said the delegation and the Army also discussed the two Palestinian suicide bombers from Bisarieh in the southern district of Zahrani, one of whom bombed the Iranian Embassy last November while the other attempted to attack the Iranian Cultural Center on Feb. 19.
According to Taha, the delegation insisted that theirs were individual acts and asked that Palestinians in Lebanon not bear the consequences.
Taha also confirmed that Hamas was communicating with Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement in order to avoid Sunni-Shiite strife in the south, where some 50,000 Palestinians live divided among 10 camps.
The Palestinian party’s relationship with Hezbollah cooled somewhat when it moved its political bureau from Syria, where Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s followers are fighting alongside the regime, to rebel-sponsor state Qatar in December 2011.
But in an interview last month with The Daily Star, Hamas politburo official in Lebanon Ali Barakeh said that although the party disagrees with the decision of Hezbollah and other Lebanese to intervene in the Syrian crisis, “dialogue and engagement continues with Hezbollah.”
On the political level, Barakeh added, such engagement is often concerned with keeping the refugee camps neutral during times of crisis and coordinating with the resistance of the Israeli occupation.
Whatever the objections, Hamas’ campaign is working in some places.
Outside his school in Rashidieh refugee camp near the southern coastal city of Tyre, student Mohammad Nasser said that he thought it was more important to protest Israel’s actions than breed terrorism.
“We have to pay attention to Israeli terrorism, not create it ourselves,” he said. “Why ... are we blowing up the Lebanese? Whoever wants to die, let him go to Palestine, that’s where the enemy is.”