AIN AL-HILWEH, Lebanon: Tensions between Islamists and pro-Syrian regime Palestinian factions have eased in the refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh, following an agreement between various groups in the camp.
Fathi Abu al-Ardat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon, said over the weekend that Al-Saiqa had agreed to let its offices be used for meetings of the Palestinian Follow-Up Committee and the Popular Committees, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command would let Palestinian refugees from Syria take shelter in their Ain al-Hilweh headquarters.
In the past week, relatives of Palestinians who were killed fighting with Syrian rebels and Islamists demanded that the pro-Syrian regime Al-Saiqa and PFLP-GC remove their signs from the camp, and shots were fired at the Al-Saiqa office.
A group of armed men said to be members of Fatah al-Islam stormed Al-Saiqa’s empty offices, throwing a grenade and shooting. Two other shootings also rocked the camp – including one that stemmed from a dispute about the legitimacy of fighting in Syria.
A flurry of meetings followed, culminating in talks Saturday at Ain al-Hilweh’s Al-Noor Mosque. The talks gathered the PLO, the pro-Syrian regime Alliance of Palestinian Factions, the Palestinian National Security Forces and Islamist groups.
Palestinian sources familiar with the meeting said the plan to repurpose the offices of the two factions was hammered out in detail at the Follow-Up Committee’s office with representatives of Al-Saiqa and the PFLP-GC.
Two Palestinian families who fled violence in Syria moved into the PFLP-GC space later Saturday.
The sources added that the threat of a violent flare-up in Ain al-Hilweh has hastened talks between the PLO and the Alliance of Palestinian Factions on the formation of a unified security body for the country’s camps, an issue that has long been discussed but has seen little progress.
“We have to work in a unified way to consolidate Palestinian work within a unified Palestinian framework in which all forces participate,” Ardat said Saturday. “We have reached an understanding on all the issues that protect Ain al-Hilweh and all the Palestinian camps.”
He said the meetings would continue, and added that the main concern of negotiators is “how to protect our people and help the refugees who were displaced from camps in Syria, including Yarmouk; and how to unify these efforts to protect, shelter, and maintain the security [of refugees].”
Sheikh Abu Sharif Aqer, an official from Usbat al-Ansar who took part in the talks, said that he understood why some Islamists had acted out, as they had been “moved by the oppression and cruelty in Syria.”
“But we also say to these brothers that there are more than 80,000 refugees in this camp and it is our duty to preserve their lives. We hope that peace and security will prevail in the camp and its surroundings,” he added.
PLO politburo member Salah al-Yusuf emphasized that the camps are more secure today then they have been in the past.