Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri attends a general parliament discussion in downtown Beirut, Lebanon October 18, 2017..
(photo credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR / REUTERS)
The Lebanese army was deployed to the entrance of a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon after clashes between Fatah and a Hezbollah-linked group called Ansar Allah left 2 dead and 20 wounded in a week of fighting.
Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh called Nabih Berri, the Lebanese speaker of parliament and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to discuss the clashes. Hamas is seeking to portray itself as the peaceful broker of a deal in the context of its attempts to also find a way out of clashes with Israel in Gaza and achieve some spotlight on its role.
The clashes began in Mieh Mieh refugee camp in southern Lebanon on October 15 after Ahmad al-Abed, a Fatah activist known locally as “potato” fought with Mohammad Hussein, a member of Ansar Allah. The two sides used machine guns, mortars and RPGs, according to The Daily Star
in Lebanon. A ceasefire was brokered by the Palestinian National Security Forces in the camp and members of Ansar Allah, which is linked to Hezbollah. Because Hamas was not involved in the clashes, its offices were used to discuss the ceasefire and it was able to insert itself as a broker in the conflict. Most of the wounded in the fighting were Fatah members.
Families fled the camp in coming days, and the Lebanese army was deployed the Mieh Mieh’s entrance. Local Palestinians “embraced” the Lebanese army deployment to quell the clashes, Lebanese media reported. Over the last year there have been several assassination attempts between local Palestinian factions and members of Ansar Allah. In September a member of Ansar Allah was arrested by the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, accused of trying to kill the Palestinian Embassy’s security chief Ismail Sharrouf in 2017.
Ansar Allah was founded in the 1990s by Jamal Suleiman who had been a Fatah activist but gravitated to align himself with the Shi’ite Hezbollah and Amal movement during the Lebanese Civil War. However his unit of Sunni Palestinians clashed with Fatah in April 2014 and Ansar Allah members were indicted for the fighting.
This time Lebanon has sought to deploy the army to confiscate heavy weapons after the clashes. Last week high level officials gathered in Sidon, near the camp, and met with the a member of the Lebanese army’s intelligence branch, a representative of the Palestinian national security, a deputy from Ansar Allah and a Hamas official named Ahmed Abdel Hadi. The meeting, according to Asharq al-Awsat was part of the deal to deploy the army. Deploying the army changes the delicate balance in the camp. Many Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon contain armed factions and have their own security forces, separate from the army. They form their own local security apparatus with armed men patrolling the streets and in the past they have clashed with more extremist jihadist groups that sought to replace Palestinian nationalism with more extremist sectarian ideologies. “Factional rivalries remain and insecurity flares periodically inside some camps,” notes Middle East Eye. “Heavily armed Lebanese army checkpoints can be seen today in control of the entrance of camps like Nahr el-Bahred, Ain el-Hilweh and Burj el-Shamali.”
Mieh Mieh is a small camp with 5,200 refugees, according to UNRWA. Founded in 1954 and located 4km east of Sidon it was badly damaged in the Lebanese civil war. The conflict between Ansar Allah and Fatah. Hamas has tried to play a role in ending the recent clashes. Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh, called Nabih Berri, the Shi’ite Amal movement leader and speaker of parliament and also phoned Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri, who is Sunni. Hariri, according to a Hamas statement, said he would “spare no effort to stop what is going on.” Hamas described Ansar Allah as “Hezbollah-backed.”
Hamas seeks a wider role in the Mieh Mieh incident in the context of its own problems in Gaza
. Fatah has been pushing sanctions against Hamas-run Gaza even as Hamas has sought a ceasefire in clashes with Israel that have been ongoing for six months. Egypt has played a key role in trying to bring the Israel-Hamas tensions to an end and Qatar, which has supported Hamas, has also supplied fuel to Gaza via Israel recently. The Mieh Mieh clashes, although small, present Hamas an opportunity to show that it can lead and broker deals, and shed a light on the inability of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah to do so. Whether the Lebanese army actually collects heavy weapons in the camp remains to be seen.
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