As Lebanese Attack On
Palestinian Camp Continues
By Chris Marsden
05 June, 2007
Lebanese military siege of the Palestinian refugee camp at Nahr al-Bared
in the north continues, even as fighting spreads to the Ain Al-Helweh
Palestinian refugee camp in Saida in the south.
The siege—first mounted
on May 20 for the stated aim of destroying the Sunni jihadist group
Fatah al-Islam—has produced a major humanitarian crisis. More
than 27,000 Palestinians have been displaced, 20,000 of whom have sought
shelter in the neighbouring camp at Beddawi, just 10 kilometres away.
Eight to ten thousand residents remain trapped in Nahr al-Bared, which
has had much of its infrastructure destroyed.
No aid can be delivered to
those trapped inside. Only thirty residents have been evacuated by the
Palestine Red Crescent in recent days—women, children, the old
and the injured. The United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees
(UNRWA) has said it is concerned that large areas of the camp, including
its own compound, could be booby-trapped or littered with unexploded
bombs and shells.
The International Committee
of the Red Cross (ICRC) has provided five tonnes of food aid, 150 hygiene
kits and 500 blankets to 250 displaced families in Sidon. But Richard
Cook of UNRWA described the situation at Beddawi as “unsustainable.”
UNRWA has launched a global appeal for $12.7 million to provide food
aid, shelter, emergency health care, water and sanitation and security
for the next three months.
Over 100 people have been
killed in the fighting, including 20 refugees inside Nahr al-Bared and
one Lebanese civilian caught in the crossfire. The full tally of casualties
is unknown because no one has access to the camp.
Samih Kabara, the ICRC’s
spokesman, said Sunday, “We have been on standby since the early
hours of the morning with our... ambulances to try to evacuate the wounded,
but the shelling is so intense and we could not enter.”
Bilal Aslan, the head of
the secular nationalist Fatah faction in Nahr al-Bared, stated that
the residents of Nahr al-Bared who remained were sheltering in basements
of buildings or in the entrances of old bomb shelters. “There’s
no food, no water, no electricity. We can’t hold out much longer
like this,” he said. Medical facilities were almost nonexistent
and it was too dangerous to go out onto the streets, he added.
Amnesty International has
expressed its concern over the death of civilians and “the army’s
use of artillery and other heavy weapons, including tank fire, against
The Lebanese bombardment
has been stepped up since June 1 and it is widely expected that the
army will move into the camp soon to finish off the estimated 200 to
250 Fatah al-Islam combatants still alive there. This would place the
lives of thousands at risk.
Around fifty tanks and armoured
cars have surrounded the camp since June 1. The let-up in bombing yesterday
saw an additional two dozen armoured personnel carriers arrive, as well
as many more troops. A helicopter gunship has also been deployed to
block an escape route to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Observer June 3 reported
a special forces officer stating: “This is it. We tried to negotiate,
but it didn’t work. The army will continue until they are all
dead. There is no stopping.”
Chillingly, a Lebanese army
commander at the scene added that anyone who had not left during the
ceasefire was “unlikely” to be considered a non-combatant:
“We risked our lives for 10 days to allow all the civilians to
escape. If someone did not take the decision to leave, then they took
the decision to stay, which means they are not a civilian.”
This flies in the face of
statements by Lebanese government officials accusing Fatah al-Islam
of using civilians as human shields and having fired on people who were
attempting to flee the camp.
Lebanese security officials
were reported stating that Nahr al-Bared had been strategically divided
into three zones—one controlled by the army, one by Fatah al-Islam
and one by Palestinian civilians and PLO guerrillas who were refusing
the Islamists entry.
The response of Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and the PLO to the assault has
been extraordinary. Fatah has registered its support for the attack
as a defence of Lebanese sovereignty, defended the tactics employed
by the army, and launched its own offensive against an Al Qaeda-style
group similar to Fatah al-Islam.
Sultan Abu al-Aynayn, secretary
general of Fatah and head of he PLO in Lebanon, said, “While it
is true that we might disagree on the means, a positive sign lies in
the fact that various Palestinian and Lebanese groups agree that Fatah
al-Islam should be readily crushed.”
He denied that civilians
at the camp have been targeted by the Lebanese army, describing such
claims as “rumours that the militants have been spreading to make
the army look bad.” He continued: “In reality, right from
the beginning of the fight the civilians suffered very few injuries.
Only four civilians were injured and most of these injuries were of
He urged all Fatah al-Islam
members still alive to surrender, adding, “I trust the army.”
The violence that erupted
on Sunday at the Ain al-Helweh camp was instigated by the Islamist group
Jund al-Sham, a Syrian Sunni group hostile to Syria’s government,
when it attacked an army checkpoint. A second attack followed yesterday.
There were reports that PLO
fighters openly clashed with Jund Al Sham members, with al-Aynayn telling
reporters “our fighters are trying to back the Lebanese army to
foil any movement by Jund al-Sham, which has close links with an Al
Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam movement in the area.”
Earlier, on June 1, a gun-battle
broke out between Jund al-Sham and Fatah fighters. According to local
media sources, upwards of 500 Palestinians have already fled Ain al-Helweh.
Fatah al-Islam has said that
it will spread its fight to Ain al-Helweh and other refugee camps. This
would not only threaten more bloodshed, but raise the possibility of
Lebanese military attacks on more Palestinian camps and the entry of
the Lebanese army into the camps.
Despite the lack of support
among Palestinians for the jihadist groups, many Palestinains are furious
at the destruction of Nahr al-Bared. An invasion of the camp, in breech
of a 39-year-old agreement excluding Lebanese forces, would provoke
Hajj Rif’at, media
director for Fatah in Lebanon, has stated, “If the army invades
[Nahr al-Bared], I think that there will be many more Palestinian victims
from within the camp, and we refuse that the solution be at the expense
of our children and women and the destruction of our camp.”
Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the
leader of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia movement, has denounced the shelling
of Nahr al-Bared and described its borders as a “red line.”
For its part, Hamas, like
Fatah, has given tacit support to the Lebanese military operation. Spokesman
Ali Baraka stated that the “tangible progress” made by the
army in clearing Nahr al-Bared’s northern and eastern edges of
militants could become a “victory that could open the way for
a political settlement.”
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