BEIRUT: Radical Islamist group the Nusra Front has not penetrated Palestinian refugee camps, Hamas representative Ali Barakeh said Tuesday. Barakeh said rumors of the group’s presence in Sidon’s Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp were unfounded.
“Such rumors are not new, the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp has always been targeted [as being a safe haven for terrorists] in the past and it is still being targeted by such reports,” the Hamas official said.
“We reiterate that there is no so-called Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front) in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon and we stress that the refugee camps will only be a factor for stability in this country,” he added.
Nusra Front is a Syrian opposition brigade and has been labeled a terrorist group by the United States.
Barakeh’s comments came as Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri voiced concern that Lebanon was becoming a battleground for Al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks operating in the region.
In remarks published in a local newspaper Thursday, Berri said that there was evidence that jihadi groups were operating in the country.
“I read in an American newspaper that Lebanon has turned into a place for Al-Qaeda to carry out jihad and regardless of what I have read, all signs on the ground confirm this,” Berri added.
“It is enough just to observe some events and the way they are developing to realize that the Lebanese arena has become a fertile ground for these groups [to flourish],” he said.
Following a meeting with Sidon MP Bahia Hariri last Thursday, Barakeh said the “security of the refugee camps and that of Sidon are one.”
“We reiterate that meetings are necessary with all political parties, especially those in Sidon, to spread the language of dialogue [and move] away from civil strife,” said Barakeh.
Barakeh also said that Palestinians living in the refugee camps did not want to take part in any internal Lebanese conflict and were willing to do what was necessary to help foster dialogue among the Lebanese.
Allegations that Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups have infiltrated Lebanon has been made repeatedly by politicians since the beginning of the unrest in Syria.
In an interview last year, Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh said that operatives from the Al-Qaeda network were present in Lebanon and senior leaders such as President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati were aware of their activities.
Last month’s arrest of Khalid Hmayyed in the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal for having alleged links with the Nusra Front reignited fears that groups with links to Al-Qaeda were operating in the country.
Two Lebanese soldiers were killed and many others injured when gunmen ambushed an army unit in retaliation for the arrest.