The Lebanese military has started building a tall cement wall and watchtowers around parts of the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp, near the southern city of Sidon, inspiring popular protest on social media.
The wall and watchtowers come as a part of an agreement between the military and the Palestinian factions in the camp and will take 15 months to complete. The Lebanese military is not allowed to enter the camp.
Munir al-Maqdah, the head of the Joint Palestinian Security Forces, told Sky News Arabia that “the wall is being built outside the camp and far away from residential areas.”
Maqdah added the military informed Palestinian leaders in Lebanon that “the wall and [watchtowers] are being built for security concerns, which we accepted.”
He acknowledged, however, that the wall will have a harmful effect on camp residents. “The psychological implications of a wall will be negative and difficult [to overcome],” he said, adding that the military agreed to a number of Palestinian proposals to amend the wall’s path and the watchtowers’ locations.
Ain al-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian camp in the country with nearly 120,000 residents, has suffered from poor security. In June 2015, top Fatah leader Talal Balawna was assassinated there. Two months later, armed clashes between Fatah and an Islamist terrorist group, Jund al-Sham, broke out in the camp, lasting for more than a week. In September 2016, the Lebanese military arrested the founder of Jund al-sham, Imad Yasmin, in the camp, whom it charges is also an ISIS leader.
Lebanese authorities say that Ain al-Hilweh has become a refuge for “militants” who are planning to carry out attacks on Lebanese targets.
Palestinian residents of Ain al-Hilweh have taken to social media to protest the wall, which they call the “wall of shame” and compare to Israel’s security barrier in and along the West Bank.
The Asimat al-Shitat Facebook page, which has more than 75,000 followers and reports on news in Ain al-Hilweh, posted photos of construction of the wall on Saturday, condemning it.
“These pictures are not in occupied Palestine. The company carrying out the project is not Zionist,” the post read. “The Lebanese authorities are building a wall around Ain al-Hilweh, which is only 1 square kilometer.”
Azzam al-Ahmed, a Fatah Central Committee member and former PLO ambassador to Lebanon, told The Jerusalem Post
that he does not have details about the construction of the wall, but said the security situation in the camp is stable.
“There are terrorist organizations attempting to penetrate the camp, but the cooperation and coordination between us, the PLO, and the Lebanese government and army is at the highest levels, and until now, we believe that we are in control of the situation inside the camp,” Ahmad said, adding, “The repeated assassinations that were taking place several months ago have disappeared.”