Ain al-Hilweh crisis: Fractured factions and the battle for control

Press Highlights
2023-08-01 | 23:43
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Ain al-Hilweh crisis: Fractured factions and the battle for control
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6min
Ain al-Hilweh crisis: Fractured factions and the battle for control

The Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp remains engulfed in clashes for a third consecutive day as tense hours continue to grip the city of Sidon. 

This article was originally published in and translated from Lebanese newspaper Nidaa al-Watan. 

The impact of these events is spilling over into neighboring villages and the international road leading to southern towns. As of now, no accurate reading of the situation within the camp has been disclosed, and the true motives and timing behind these clashes remain shrouded in secrecy. 

The battles in Ain al-Hilweh have raised several critical questions, yet satisfactory answers are yet to emerge.

This is not the first time that conflict has erupted within Ain al-Hilweh, reigniting concerns about the issue of armed factions within the camps. Historically, Palestinian factions have agreed, declaring ceasefires followed by attempts to unify Palestinian ranks, maintain security and tranquility, and uphold Lebanese sovereignty. 

However, this dynamic has transformed over time, casting doubts on the feasibility of these agreements and highlighting the grim reality of armed groups operating beyond the confines of the law, seemingly indifferent to the host nation's interests.

The exact number of Palestinian factions within the camp and their internal and external affiliations remains challenging to quantify, especially as the fear of conflict spilling over to neighboring areas grows, prompting the Lebanese Army's deployment along the borders.

The camp's ongoing turmoil places a burden even on the Palestinian Authority as these factions expand their influence, making them increasingly difficult to control. Their decisions are tied to neighboring countries, from Qatar to Iran to Turkey, and the once-central role of "Fatah" now appears weakened.

Observers of the camp's situation highlight the absence of a clear distinction between different factions and their affiliations. The once-respected term "Palestinian resistance" is no longer synonymous with the weaponry in these camps. 

Internal decisions have become externalized, with "Fatah" and the Palestinian Authority growing weaker in the process. Reports suggest internal attempts to undermine "Fatah," particularly from groups operating independently from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, including Islamic factions within the camp, such as "ISIS" and others. 

Political sources, according to Nidaa al-Watan, express their fear that one of the goals of the security chaos is to lead to mass displacement within the camp and provoke a confrontation with the Lebanese Army, possibly echoing the battles of Nahr al-Bared, thus risking the symbolic identity of Ain al-Hilweh as the capital of Palestinian refuge and fostering a gradual process of Palestinian resettlement. 

Some sources even suggest that "Osbat al-Ansar" prevented an assault on "Fatah" centers within the camp, with active involvement from figures in Sidon, including political, religious, and even Hezbollah elements.

All these events unfold against the backdrop of Lebanon's Army Day, with the military's presence surrounding the camp yet remaining unable to intervene decisively or assert state authority within the camp's confines. 

Any action taken without a clear political decision would likely lead to further destabilization, especially as a repeat of the Nahr al-Bared battle is both difficult and undesirable. 

It is certain, however, that the ongoing battles and their potential expansion carry grave consequences, given the fear that conflicts might spread to multiple camps simultaneously, necessitating high-risk confrontations.

One of the central themes of the Ain al-Hilweh clashes revolves around the question of disarming Palestinian factions that have arguably outgrown their original mandate. 

These factions now operate within what has transformed from refugee "camps" into non-state-controlled residential clusters. They have become breeding grounds for security risks, with various groups executing operations driven by external and often detrimental agendas.

While these clashes may eventually conclude as similar conflicts have in the past, Ain al-Hilweh will remain a testament to the weakness of the state. 

During Army Day, the ceremonial praises and accolades bestowed upon soldiers belie the unfortunate reality shaped by the absence of an empowered political authority to enable the military's intended role.

The ongoing developments within Ain al-Hilweh bear grave implications, as attested by security reports and acknowledged by concerned political bodies in the south. 

The prevalence of extremist groups in the decision-making process further underscores the incongruity between their power and the existing southern political landscape, particularly concerning Hezbollah.

The battles began and expanded on Tuesday, raising pressing questions. How will they conclude, and at what cost? Where is Israel from what is happening? And what is its purpose? Could the provocation of the Lebanese Army trigger an intervention, possibly with Hezbollah support?? What kind of agreement took place a short time ago between the army intelligence and the Palestinian leaders to hand over weapons? What is his relationship to what is happening? Is this what is required?

In the latest developments during the past hours, a decision to end the status of "Fatah al-Islam," "Jundallah," and other extremist groups was made, and there are "material capabilities" available to the entities that require them to carry out their mission. 

Palestinian sources of concern have spoken about a resurgence of the anti-Abbas Fatah faction, aiming to take control and regain authority to some extent. Is it now the time for a resolution and eliminating these groups?
 

Lebanon News

Press Highlights

Lebanon

Ain Al-Hilweh

Palestinian

Refugee

Camp

Clashes

Sidon

Fatah

Hezbollah

Lebanese Army

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