AIN AL-HILWEH, Lebanon: A string of violent incidents in Ain al-Hilweh has Palestinian officials concerned that the fighting in Syria could erupt inside Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps, prompting several attempts to constrain tension.
Former Fatah al-Islam member Khalil al-Maarouf attacked a Fatah office in the camp Friday, stealing a Fatah member’s gun and shooting him. Maarouf fled the scene, but a delegation from the Palestinian Follow-Up Committee located him, confiscated the rifle, and returned it to Mohammad Abdel Kader al-Daour, the injured man who was receiving treatment in the hospital.
The shooting heightened concerns that the camp might erupt into violence, after several days of security incidents related to the fighting in Syria.
Islamists and relatives of Palestinians who died fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad stormed Wednesday the offices of the pro-Syrian factions Al-Saiqa and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
Relatives of the two dead men, Mahmoud Hosni Abdel Kader and Mahmoud Kamal Sleiman, demanded that all signs and banners of the two factions be removed by Friday at noon.
Shortly after, an unidentified group opened fire at the Saiqa office, a development that forced Islamist factions and the Palestinian Follow-Up Committee to intervene to contain tensions, meeting late Wednesday at the home of a Hamas official.
According to officials who took part in the talks Wednesday night, a proposal was made to turn the Saiqa offices into an office for the Follow-Up Committee, and to transform the PFLP-GC headquarters into a shelter for Palestinians who have fled Syria.
Saiqa representatives informed Palestinian officials of their willingness to turn their offices over to the Follow-Up Committee, but no representatives of PFLP-GC attended.
Speaking Thursday, influential Islamist leader and the head of the Islamic Jihad Movement Sheikh Jamal Khattab said the factions had agreed to work together to protect the interests of Palestinian refugees in the camp and cooperate to head off any incidents that could destabilize the camp.
“The Follow-Up Committee used to meet at the Al-Saiqa offices, and they will continue to do so,” Khattab said. “We are working on bringing in [Palestinian refugee] families and giving them shelter in those faction offices where there is space available.”
But as Khattab met with members of the committee to discuss replacing Saiqa’s sign with that of the Follow-Up Committee, a disagreement between Mohammad Hosni Abdel Kader and a Saiqa member developed into a shooting. Abdel Kader, whose brother was killed in Syria, was arguing with the Saiqa member about the legitimacy of the fighting in the country.
Later, a group of armed men who are said to be members of Fatah al-Islam stormed the empty Saiqa offices, throwing a hand grenade and opening fire.
Members of the Palestinian National Security Forces arrived to calm the situation. There were no attacks on the offices of PFLP-GC.
The troubles escalated Friday, as officials from various pro- and anti-Syrian factions met at the Palestinian Embassy in Beirut to discuss the issue and the Islamist demands regarding the two party offices.
Fathi Abu al-Ardat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon, represented Fatah; Abu Imad al-Rifai spoke for the pro-Syrian regime Alliance of Palestinian Factions; and Ali Barakeh represented Hamas.
Officials familiar with the meeting say that the incidents in Ain al-Hilweh have Palestinian officials concerned that the clashes could trigger an inter-Palestinian conflict with the potential to destabilize all of the country’s camps. The officials expressed their confidence that the factions will do everything they can to maintain stability inside the camp and Sidon, and maintain their distance from the fighting in Syria.