Lebanon News

Ain al-Hilweh officials plan elite security force as killings rattle camp

Palestinians from various factions carry kalashnikovs as they patrol the refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh near Sidon, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

SIDON, Lebanon: With assassinations, security incidents and clashes on the rise, the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp is hanging on by a thread, prompting officials to discuss over the weekend plans to establish a local elite security force.Palestinian factions have so far managed to control and contain the fallout from the assassinations and shooting incidents that have targeted high-ranking figures and officials in the camp.

Parallel efforts aim to enforce a Palestinian memorandum of understanding that was agreed upon a few months ago to protect refugee camps and strengthen Lebanese-Palestinian relations.

The Ain al-Hilweh camp recently witnessed several attacks on Islamists. Palestinian member of Fatah al-Islam Alaa Ali Hujeir was shot in the camp last week and remains in critical condition. Last month, the bodyguard of Fatah al-Islam official Bilal Badr, Ali Khalil, was shot in the head and later died from his wounds.

The attacks came just weeks after a Sunni sheikh, Arsan Suleiman, was fatally shot in Ain al-Hilweh.

The incidents sparked fears of a string of assassinations aimed at further destabilizing the camp and provoking a security crisis, as the perpetrators of the recent attacks remain unknown.

Saturday night also witnessed a group of armed masked men loyal to Badr asking shops to close down after reports emerged that Hujeir’s family was taking to the streets to protest the lack of support to cover hospital expenses.

Despite the latest assassination attempt on Hujeir’s life, the Supreme Security Committee for Palestinian Camps finalized their plans to form a security force.

A meeting was held with this purpose at the headquarters of the Palestinian National Security and was attended by representatives of the national and Islamist Palestinian factions of the committee.

The meeting looked into the necessary operations of the security forces and their potential locations across the camp.

But the meeting was soon put on hold following the arrival of Hujeir’s family, at which point a dispute ensued between the family and the meeting participants regarding the responsibility of some members of the Palestinian forces to cover the cost of Hujeir’s treatment, which exceeded LL36 million.

Representative of the Islamist Forces Sheikh Abu Sharif Akl said there were some suspicious groups in the camp aiming to disrupt security and thwart the Palestinian initiative.

“But we say that all Palestinian factions, whether Islamist or national, are insistent on ensuring the success of the initiative and guaranteeing the safety and security of our people in the camp and surrounding areas,” he added.

According to Akl, Saturday’s meeting aimed at reinforcing the role and mission of the security forces which would protect the camp’s residents.

He also said the Islamist groups were insistent that the “security forces were no one’s enemy, we are all family in this camp, there is no side that is the enemy of another side,” adding that they were also intent on strengthening the security forces.

“These days we live in the memory of the Nakba, and we are mobilizing our determination and energies for Palestine, which is the central cause of Arabs and Muslims,” Akl added.

He stated that even the most secure of nations suffer from similar security incidents, but the factions present at the meeting were firm on their resolve to maintain peace, and those wanting to tamper with the security of the camp were few in number, and were bound to fail in their endeavors.

According to those present at the meeting, plans to form the security forces in the camp were not yet complete, and research was focusing on the logistical and technical side.

Talks are ongoing to establish a force composed of between 100 and 150 members representing different Palestinian factions, including the Islamist groups.

The forces will be deployed across the entire camp and at key points in high-tension areas. They will also have political cover to acquire equipment, money and surveillance cameras that will be installed in areas susceptible to security incidents.

In its report that has yet to be issued, the Supreme Security Committee will also ask the consolidated Palestinian political factions to grant the security forces exceptional and unprecedented powers to conduct security operations in the camp, and mobilize quickly and effectively when an incident occurs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 12, 2014, on page 3.




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