Lebanon News

Defiant Army: Work on camp wall to go on

The wall around Ain al Hilweh, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

SIDON: Work on the now controversial “security wall” being built around the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh near Sidon will proceed as planned as the Palestinian factions Thursday offered to provide an alternative within 10-days. A meeting held between Army Intelligence chief in the south Brig. Gen. Khodr Hammoud and a Palestinian delegation regarding the wall saw both sides stick to their guns. The Army appeared keen that the wall construction continues, while the secular and Islamic factions oppose it.

“What is the alternative and there are wanted people who are sneaking in and out of the camp? If you had alternative solutions I am personally ready to pass them to the [Army] command,” he told the delegation, according to sources in attendance. “We will continue building the wall until any new decision regarding this is issued by the leadership.”

In a meeting held at the Zogheib Military Barracks in Sidon both sides spoke honestly about the matter.

During the course of negotiations, Hammoud appeared more a listener than a talker as members of the delegation relayed the unified Palestinian decision to reject the wall and call for works on it to be suspended.

The Palestinian delegation, which included representatives from the unified Palestinian leadership and the Higher Palestinian Security Committee, suggested an alternative that would lead to the same security outcome that the wall intended to serve.

The delegation asked Hammoud to give them 10 days to provide the Lebanese Army command with a substitute. Hammoud was honest and direct with the delegation, saying that he will pass on their desire and suggestions to the Army command.

“As for the 10-day time limit, I can’t promise you anything until I review things with the command. It is the [only body] that can take the suitable decision,” Hammoud explained to the delegation.

However, on the ground things appeared to be different.

Machines and construction work on the wall on the camp’s western and southern borders appeared to have stopped. Sources, however, said that this didn’t mean that overall work had been suspended. The sources said there might be preparations to continue with the work.

The meeting with Hammoud was preceded by an expanded meeting for the Higher Palestinian Security Committee that was held at the hall of the Al-Nour Mosque in Ain al-Hilweh during which they reiterated their rejection of the wall.

They said they considered it to be bad for the historic relationship between the Lebanese and Palestinian people but added that they consider the Army to be a force that supports the Palestinian plight.

Meanwhile, the Witness Association quoted acting UNRWA Lebanon Director Hakam Shahwan as saying that a study will be made on the wall before an official position is announced by the agency.

A Hamas statement said its chief, Khaled Meshaal, urged Lebanese officials to suspend the construction of the wall.

Meshaal spoke with Speaker Nabih Berri, caretaker Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri.

“He explained the severity of this procedure on the living conditions of the refugees in the [Ain al-Hilweh] camp,” the statement added.

The Palestinian Return Center, that bills itself as an independent consultancy focusing on the historical, political and legal aspects of the Palestinian Refugees, expressed its concern over wall.

“The center perceives this step as extremely dangerous as it believes this will enhance the social division in the country and in practice it will essentially put more than 80,000 people in a large, open air prison,” the center said in a statement posted online.

The Palestinian Return Center said that the move was seen as “a form of apartheid” and “discrimination.”

“Therefore, the center vowed [to] launch an international campaign to oppose this decision in all available platforms and will work toward this with its partners worldwide to push the Lebanese government to reverse its wrong and inhuman action.”

Palestinian factions had previously backed the security wall after negotiations with the Army but reversed their decision this week amid local and international backlash to the project.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 25, 2016, on page 2.




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