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Who ignited Ain Al-Hilweh and why?

August 2, 2023 at 2:25 pm

A man holds a poster among the people gathered for the funeral ceremony of Fatah Movement members and 3 guards in Sidon, Lebanon on July 31, 2023 [Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency]

The events of Ain Al-Hilweh began with Muhammad Zubaidat, nicknamed Al-Somali, who is affiliated with the Fatah movement and the Palestinian National Security, opening fire in the market last Saturday 29 July. Mohammad Al-Siddiq Farhood, who is affiliated with the Al-Shabab Al-Muslim group, was killed and others, including children, were wounded.

On Sunday afternoon, the Brigadier General of the Palestinian National Security, Abu Ashraf Al-Armoushi, and four of his companions were assassinated in Ain Al-Hilweh camp, in an area largely controlled by Fatah. In this context, the Fatah movement initially accused Asbat Al-Ansar of being responsible for the assassination. After the group denied responsibility for the assassination, the accusations were directed at Al-Shabab Al-Muslim, who also denied responsibility for the assassination.

Between the first and second incidents, and after them, Ain Al-Hilweh camp became an arena for gunfire and clashes with light and medium weapons, which led to the death of at least 12 people (nine belonging to the Fatah movement, including Brigadier General Al-Armoushi, one from Asbat Al-Ansar, one from Al-Shabab Al-Muslim, and a civilian) in addition to about 50 wounded as of 1 August. Moreover, about 3,000 Palestinian refugees inside the camp were displaced to the city of Sidon.

In light of these facts, it is necessary to stop and explore the backgrounds and objectives of the events in Ain Al-Hilweh.

READ: Head of Lebanon Hezbollah urges halt to Palestinian camp clashes

First, the individual who initiated the current violent events is a person who, along with his family, is affiliated with the Fatah movement and the Palestinian National Security. He initiated the situation after opening fire in the market, killing an individual who is affiliated with Al-Shabab Al-Muslim and wounding a number of children.

Second, Brigadier General Al-Armoushi and his four companions were killed in an area largely controlled by Fatah, and he was assassinated in a manner described as professional, which puts a question mark on the nature of the executing party, which appears to have high security and technical capabilities. However, the party responsible has not yet been identified. The Secretary of the Fatah movement in Lebanon, Fathi Abu Al-Ardat, said: “We have clues regarding the assassination, but I do not want to get ahead of the investigation committee.”

Third, the Joint Palestinian National Action Committee (a framework consisting of the Palestinian factions in Lebanon) agreed on a ceasefire and the formation of an investigation committee on Sunday 30 July, but armed groups in the Fatah movement did not abide by the agreement. Therefore, another agreement was made between the Palestinian factions on Monday under the auspices of Sidon MP Osama Saad to enforce a ceasefire and form an investigation committee, but armed groups in the Fatah movement did not abide by that either. Clashes continued but decreased in intensity. This prompted Abu Al-Ardat to say that “after the martyrdom Brigadier General Al-Armoushi, it was difficult to control the situation.”

Israel, Lebanon tensions at the border - Cartoon [Latuff/MiddleEastMonitor]

Israel, Lebanon tensions at the border – Cartoon [Latuff/MiddleEastMonitor]

Fourth, a member of Asbat Al-Ansar was killed during the clashes in the camp, which would have widened the circle of engagement had it not been for the group remaining calm and responding to voices calling on it not to provide an opportunity for those who seek to target the camp. This means that the party controlling the Fatah militants and the national security was seeking to expand the circle of engagement with Islamic frameworks other than Al-Shabab Al-Muslim to make the Islamic movements (jihadi/resistance movements) parties to the crisis.

Fifth, the circle of damages expanded to the Lebanese areas surrounding the Ain Al-Hilweh camp, and a number of Lebanese citizens were injured as a result of shelling and bullets from the camp. The city of Sidon suffered from almost complete paralysis of daily life, facilities and roads, meaning Lebanese society fell victim to the clashes in Ain Al-Hilweh camp.

These quick notes indicate that there is a current within the Fatah movement and the Palestinian National Security that is concerned with escalation and expanding the circle of armed conflict starting from Ain Al-Hilweh, which creates a crisis inside Lebanon. This has led to some saying that weapons being held by Palestinian resistance factions in Lebanon have become a threat to the country and to Lebanese and Palestinian civilians alike. This means that the Palestinian weapons have shifted from being a national matter to confront the occupation to a matter of security crisis in Lebanon that must be reconsidered and disposed of. This is exactly what the head of the Palestinian intelligence service, Majed Faraj, wanted when he visited Beirut and met with Lebanese authorities on 24 July, calling on them to seize and end Palestinian armament inside and outside the camps, with the exception of those belonging to the National Security Forces of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

READ: NGO suspends services in Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp

This means that Faraj came to implement a specific agenda that seeks to undermine the presence of Palestinian resistance movements in Lebanon, especially the Islamic Jihad and Hamas movements, which the occupation held responsible for firing dozens of rockets from southern Lebanon into Israel on 6 April in defence of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa. His agenda also carries a message directed at Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which plays a supportive role for the Palestinian resistance and even the Lebanese state, which has adopted honourable positions on the Palestinian issue, stating that Lebanon is not far from being targeted in one way or another. This explains the accusation of Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, who said the timing of the clashes was “suspicious in the current regional and international context” and is considered as part of the “repeated attempts to use Lebanon as a battleground for the settling of scores at the expense of Lebanon and the Lebanese people.”

There is nothing more important than the Israeli occupation as a party that seeks to target the Palestinian presence at home and abroad, whose presence is increasing in the equation of resistance against the occupation. The events in Ain Al-Hilweh have coincided with the continued arrests by the PA security forces of Palestinian activists and resistance fighters in the West Bank after the occupation forces raided Jenin camp and failed to eliminate the resistance. They also come at a time when President Mahmoud Abbas insists on continuing security coordination with the occupation, and rejects armed resistance, as well as releasing political prisoners. This was stated in the conclusions of the secretaries-general meeting in Cairo held on 30 July.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 2 August 2023

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.