SIDON, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army has placed electronic security screening gates at all entrances to the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon to screen everyone entering or leaving the camp. The installation of the gates around the perimeter of Ain al-Hilweh drew a strong rebuke from Palestinian factions and camp residents, with activists taking to social media to call for protests at the camp’s entrances. The camp has four main gates in addition to multiple smaller entry points.
The political leadership of secular and Islamists factions in Sidon Sunday held an emergency meeting to discuss the issue.
The leadership condemned the “e-gates, which damage the brotherly ties between the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples.”
In a statement released after the meeting, the Palestinian factions called for Lebanese authorities to remove the “e-gates, which [undermine] the dignity of the Palestinian people and the families in the Ain al-Hilweh camp.”
They also spoke of the need for “bridges of trust” between Lebanese and Palestinian communities.
Ayman Shana, the political leader of Hamas in Sidon and the area’s camps, spoke of his surprise at the Army’s move.
“It is common knowledge that these [electronic] gates are located at airports and on borders, but this camp is part of Lebanese territory,” Shana said, according to a statement from Hamas.
“We condemn these gates because they undermine the dignity of our people, who have to line up to pass through them. [The gates] also obstruct traffic in and out,” he said.
Shana added that the gates are not a solution to the security issues in the camp, but do affect “the relationship of our people with the Lebanese Army.”
Another member of Hamas said he and a delegation had met with the south Lebanon head of Army Intelligence and “received a promise from Brig. Gen. Fawzi Hamadeh that he will follow up on the issue.”
Separately, Fouad Othman, the camp’s Democratic Front head, vocalized a similar response to that of Shana.
“These gates are an insult to our people and the Ain al-Hilweh camp, which was never an incubator of terrorism,” Othman said.
“Instead, we need to strengthen the brotherly relationship between the camp and its neighbors.”
He called on President Michel Aoun to work to ensure Palestinian nationals are granted civil and humanitarian rights, as well as the right to land ownership, and to foster a Palestinian-Lebanese dialogue to “strengthen the steadfastness of our people to uphold the right of return [to Palestine].”
Othman reiterated the Palestinian refugees’ commitment to adhering to Lebanese law and respecting the country’s sovereignty.
According to the state-run National News Agency, Sidon MP Bahia Hariri contacted Army chief Gen. Joseph Aoun over the issue, reportedly discussing ways in which the impact of the new security measures on the daily lives of the camps residents could be mitigated.
The electronic gates are the latest in a series of measures to ramp up security at Ain al-Hilweh.
In November 2016, the Army began erecting concrete barriers around the camp to separate it from surrounding areas due to heightened security concerns.
Fugitives and extremists were reportedly using it as a hideout from the Lebanese Army, which by convention does not enter the camp.
The project was initially met with resistance from a number of Islamist groups in the camp. Several hundred Palestinian refugees took to the streets then to decry what they called “the racist separation wall,” saying it was an oppressive development in an already unstable and deprived area.
The Army, however, insisted that the wall would not negatively impact the camp, as it would retain its six legitimate entry points.
Despite condemnation by Palestinian factions at the time, construction of the wall continued.