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      PA Gang Warfare on Lebanese Soil

      The recent issue of Monday Morning, an English-language Lebanese weekly magazine, carried an editorial entitled “The Black Hole of Ain el-Helweh”. Ain el-Hilweh is a well-known refugee camp/city populated, for the most part, by the descendants of Arab families that fled Israel during the 1948 War of Independence. Recently, Ain el-Hilweh has been the scene of bloody gun and rocket battles b
      First Publish: 5/28/2003, 3:50 PM

      The recent issue of Monday Morning, an English-language Lebanese weekly magazine, carried an editorial entitled “The Black Hole of Ain el-Helweh”.
      Ain el-Hilweh is a well-known refugee camp/city populated, for the most part, by the descendants of Arab families that fled Israel during the 1948 War of Independence. Recently, Ain el-Hilweh has been the scene of bloody gun and rocket battles between supporters of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah and Islamist gangs, including those affiliated with al-Qaeda.

      The Monday Morning article explains that “Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian camps are not controlled by the Lebanese security forces and host an array of armed groups.” The largest of these camps, with 65,000 people, is Ain el-Hilweh, where a cease-fire was reached between the warring factions “after mediation by Lebanese fundamentalist Sheikh Maher Hammoud, who negotiated the withdrawal of the warring militias to either side of the camp,” reports the magazine. “A Fateh official said the group agreed to the cease-fire for the sake of the civilians, accusing the Islamists of being heedless in this respect,” according to the Lebanese report.

      “The cease-fire,” according to a quotation attributed by Monday Morning to “a senior Palestinian official belonging to none of the rival” gangs, “has strengthened the position of the fundamentalists.... The camps will have to accommodate all the Palestinian factions, secular and Islamist... as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not resolved.” According to the Lebanese weekly, “The official warned that if the crackdown on the fundamentalists had been ordered by Arafat, it was a serious mistake, which Syria and Lebanon, no friends of the Palestinian leader, would not permit.”

      In analyzing the series of events, Monday Morning notes that “[o]bservers indicate that the timing of the incidents may be connected to the announcement by the Lebanese Army, ‘with Syrian help’, of ‘a terrorist network’ whose members were preparing attacks in Lebanon, notably against American interests, particularly the US embassy, and even the ambassador himself. Nine persons were reported arrested, Lebanese and Palestinian.” The magazine indirectly implies that the Fatah may have been doing the bidding of Lebanese authorities in attempting to eliminate Islamist terrorists, responsible for a series of attacks against Lebanese targets and officials. Again crediting “observers”, the magazine states, “the Ain el-Helweh incidents may also be linked to the acceptance by the Palestinian Authority of the latest international peace plan, and the immediate reaction of extremist Palestinian groups to that acceptance by a series of suicide bombings against Israeli targets.”

      In that last regard, the Lebanese magazine notes a conundrum for the Arabs in the refugee camps on Lebanese soil: “[T]he Palestinian Authority has accepted the so-called ‘road map’, which is silent on the subject of a return of Palestinian refugees to their homes; Lebanon rejects the implantation of Palestinians on its territory; Fateh wants no competitors and intends to reduce the fundamentalists to silence. Lebanon and Syria are committed to cracking down on fundamentalists.”

      The Monday Morning article concludes: “[T]he latest events at Ain el-Helweh, with its... array of armed organizations, including Hamas, brings up once again the question of armed Palestinian presence in the camps and the threat this constitutes for the Lebanese civilian population and for civil peace in the areas near the camps. Lebanon and Syria have no love for Arafat and do not wish to see his men take full control of Ain el-Helweh. But can these conflicts among Palestinians remain confined to the camps, control of which is expressly denied to the Lebanese Army?”