The visit of the head of the political bureau of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement to the Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp outside Sidon in Lebanon on Sunday attracted considerable international media attention. The image of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh being carried shoulder high in the camp dominated the front pages of many international websites, and observers have been looking into the context of his words as well as the timing of the visit and its implications.
Most of the official and popular groups in Lebanon expressed their pride in this historic visit of a Palestinian resistance leader who has devoted his life to his cause. Some, though, were disturbed by the visit due to political considerations in Lebanon based on the deep divisions in the visions, strategies and position of the country. It is natural for some Lebanese citizens to be unhappy with the visit for several reasons, the most prominent of which is the belief that Israel is not an enemy, while others feel that Haniyeh’s visit has regional connotations.
The representative of Hamas in Lebanon is Ahmed Abdel Hadi, and in an interview with journalist Tony Khalife on Al Jadeed TV he explained the basis, objectives and scope of the visit. Abdel Hadi stressed that the main goal of Haniyeh’s visit was to participate in a conference of senior officials of the Palestinian factions’ aiming to unify their efforts, end the Palestinian division and confront the US “deal of the century”.
With this in mind, it might reassure the people of Lebanon by emphasising that Haniyeh went to their country in an official capacity with the approval of the Lebanese government. Such approval stemmed from Lebanon’s keenness to make progress in the Palestinian cause by uniting the factions and their efforts against Donald Trump’s deal, as well as consequent moves targeting the Palestinian cause in its entirety, including the right of return for refugees.
Moreover, the visit to Ain al-Hilweh came after Haniyeh had paid his respects by visiting most of the official authorities in Lebanon, as well as various political forces. Going to the camp was in the context of the movement’s affirmation of Palestinian refugees’ legitimate right of return, as well as its interest in the security and stability of the camps, which reflect positively on the security and stability of Lebanon.
Visiting the camp had a Palestinian national aspect and was not disputed by anyone. It was a visit by the most senior official of Hamas out of concern for the refugees and where they live. The popular reception that Haniyeh was given in Ain El-Hilweh was natural, because of the refugees’ connection with the Palestinian cause, its leadership and the resistance. The fact that Ismail Haniyeh took time out to visit them was appreciated by the refugees. This was obvious from the reception he received.
The Lebanese state undertook the task of protecting Haniyeh outside the gates of the refugee camp, but the Palestinian factions and their joint security force did this on the inside. This displayed the extent of coordination and cooperation between the Palestinian factions and Lebanon’s security services.
Haniyeh did not violate the sovereignty of Lebanon with his visit, and did not make any statement undermining the security and stability of the country while he was there. Everything he said focused on the importance of the security and stability of Palestine’s neighbour and the extent of its reflection on the Palestinian cause. The Hamas leader has said that a strong Lebanon gives strength to Palestine, and that Hamas supports the security and stability of Lebanon.
However, it is natural that he would make statements regarding the Palestinian resistance in occupied Palestine and reassure the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon that the factions are preparing for the liberation of their country and their return to their homeland. When he mentioned that the rockets fired by the resistance groups can now reach beyond Tel Aviv, he meant those fired from the Gaza Strip, from where once they could only fly a few kilometres beyond the nominal border with Israel.
Regardless of their political or religious affiliations, all Palestinians should be proud of Ismail Haniyeh’s visit, the first of a high-ranking Palestinian official to Ain Al-Hilweh camp in decades. What the refugee camp witnessed confirmed the resistance movement’s commitment to the Palestinian refugee issue in Lebanon and elsewhere, and its tireless endeavours to work for the liberation of Palestine and the return of the refugees to their cities and villages occupied in 1948. It also confirmed the refugees’ commitment to their cause and their strong attachment to Palestine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.