June 19, 2012
The tension gripping Lebanon from its south to its north has spread to the Palestinian refugee camps. During the funeral of a victim of Army fire in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, another young Palestinian man was killed and all the camps rose up in rage.
Yesterday, Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon rose in a semi-intifada, from the far north to the deep south. They were outraged by the killing of a young man yesterday during the funeral in Nahr al-Bared of another young man killed by Lebanese army bullets a few days ago in the same camp.
The protests showed the pent-up anger of the refugees due to the Lebanese armyís practices at Nahr al-Baredís entrance. They are enraged by the policy of stopping and searching anyone who passes through and sending back those who do not have a permit to enter the camp.
The situation began to flare up on June 15, when the Lebanese army shot and killed Ahmad Qassem, a resident of Nahr al-Bared, following an altercation at an army checkpoint. The campís residents filled the streets demanding a transparent investigation into the incident.
Qassemís death prompted them to demand waiving the permits needed to enter and exit the camp. Following a meeting with heads of Palestinian factions in Beirut, the Lebanese army decided to calm down matters and reduce the procedures. The Palestinian leaders promised to end the sit-in and open the blocked roads.
This lasted until yesterday when the Lebanese army killed another Palestinian young man, Fouad Mohieddine Loubani. They were firing at a group of young men who had surrounded a military post and were pelting it with rocks, despite immediate communications insisting that they contain the situation and avoid escalation.
"The factions in the camp had placed metal containers, bulldozers, and forces to separate the mourners at Qassemís funeral from the soldiers at the adjacent military post," said an official in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
He added that when "the funeral reached the Khaled Ibn al-Walid cemetery and buried the deceased, some agitated [young men] attacked the soldiers at the post with stones. The army replied by shooting at them."
The situation in Nahr al-Bared escalated and slipped out of the hands of Palestinian officials. They had been insisting that the situation was beginning to calm down, after they had been promised that permits would be "suspended beginning July 1."
The young manís father also flew in from Ramallah after he had met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to work on reducing tensions.
But after another fatal casualty and around 20 injured, who were transferred to nearby Baddawi refugee camp, all that changed. Camp residents headed towards army posts and tried to storm them.
Officials in Palestinian factions who were on the ground at the time again tried to stop the escalation. They formed lines made up of camp figures, personalities, and elders to defend the army. "But the young men charging towards the checkpoints pushed us away," said a Palestinian official at the camp.
The young men blocked the campís roads with burning tires and lay down on the ground to stop army vehicles from entering. Some threw molotov cocktails at vehicles in the camp and torched a military Humvee.
Following these events, the crisis spread to the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Ain el-Helweh, Saida. A group of young people marched through the campís narrow alleys. They tried to reach Lebanese army checkpoints but were turned back by PLO faction al-Kifah al-Musallah.
In the meantime, young men began throwing rocks at an army checkpoint in the Taamir neighborhood. Although Palestinian and Lebanese military sources concurred that the army did not shoot, the men were showered with bullets.
One Palestinian was hit in the neck, in addition to four other injured. Palestinian sources disagreed on the identity of the shooters, although they maintained that it was not the army.
Following the clashes, the Hamas led Palestinian Alliance, the PLO, and Islamist groups met in al-Nour Mosque to discuss the situation. A participant in the meeting declared that they all agreed that the camps will abide by the policy of "dissociation" from events in Lebanon. They insisted that "the camps will never be against the Lebanese army."
"Al-Kifah al-Musallah is in control. It will stop any clash with the army. The brothers in [Islamist faction] Osbat al-Ansar will stop any clashes from happening in Taamir," said a prominent Fatah official.
Calls between the army and factions led to the deployment of Osbat al-Ansar fighters who "managed to separate the residents and the army in Taamir."
But, the unrest spread from camp to camp. After Nahr al-Bared and Ain el-Helweh, it was Rashidieh near Sour. Camp residents poured into the streets, threw rocks at army checkpoints, and fired at the barriers, forcing the soldiers to pull out.
PFLP official in the North, Imad Audi, says that camp officials "know the consequences of the campís involvement in political conflicts in Lebanon and the North in particular." They carried out "an awareness campaign in the last several days to push the camp away from existing conflicts."
Audi mentioned a delegation of around 40 sheikhs from Akkar who visited "to pay condolences and declare solidarity with the residents of the camp."
But he insisted that the campís residents must not "link the Kowaikhat incident (the killing of sheikh Ahmed Abdel Wahed and a companion in May at an army checkpoint) and the incident in the camp."
Participants in the meeting immediately interrupted the speech given by one of the sheikhs. "Our blood is mixed with yours. We lost our martyr sheikh Ahmed and his companion. The betrayer is one and the oppressor is one," he tried to say.
In a statement on the incident, the Lebanese army said that "some protesters and infiltrators began throwing stones and molotov cocktails at the Samed military post in Nahr al-Bared camp. Three soldiers suffered various injuries and one military vehicle was torched along with a section of the building."
"Some of the [protesters] attempted to enter the post by force and were halted by soldiers using anti-riot weapons, tear gas, and rubber bullets. It was followed by firing live rounds after they insisted on storming the place, resulting in various injuries among the perpetrators," the army statement said.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.