Intelligence Bulletin March 12, 2013 Clashes in Ain al-Hilweh, a Palestinian Refugee Camp in South Lebanon

Intelligence Bulletin March 12, 2013

Information Date: March 12, 2013

Event Date: March 11, 2013

Information Item: Clashes in Ain al-Hilweh, a Palestinian Refugee Camp in South Lebanon.

Information Details: According to my sources clashes broke out during the night of March 11 and continued into the next day in a neighborhood called Ras al-Ahmar in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp. Reportedly, the clashes were a result of an attempted assassination of a senior leader of the Sunni Jihadist militant group known as Fatah al-Islam. The clashes resulted in a few injuries.

Source: Media Platform, Neutral Sources, Others

Source Reliability: Reliable

Information Validity: Valid

Relevant information: One person injured in the clashes – the apparent target of the assassination attempt – is identified as Bilal Bader, a Senior Militant in Fatah al-Islam. His role and position in the organization is confirmed by additional sources I have. The Fatah al-Islam group is affiliated with Al-Qaida.

It should be noted that during the second part of 2007, fierce fighting took place in the Palestinian Refugee Camp of Nahr al-Bared between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese Armed Forces. These altercations resulted in dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries among the camp’s residents. After a couple of weeks of fighting the Lebanese Armed Forces regained control over the camp. Though Fatah al-Islam was defeated and its senior leaders were killed, the group still maintained operational capabilities.
Reports indicate that Fatah al-Islam is involved in the war in Syria and according to unconfirmed information the group’s leader, Abed Al Ghani Jawhar AKA Abu Hajer, was killed in the war in Syria about a year ago.

Ain al-Hilweh is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. The camp is located on the outskirts of the city of Sidon, the major Lebanese city, in South Lebanon which is also predominately Sunni. According to accumulating information, over the last few months Sunni Jihadist militant groups have increased their presence in parts of the camp.

In addition, according to unconfirmed information, Sunni Jihadist Militants recently entered Lebanon and are preparing the ground to launch attacks on Hezbollah targets and personnel inside Lebanon. Allegedly, some of these groups’ militants are based in Ain al-Hilweh Camp.

Fatah and Hamas are eagerly trying to contain this incident and to restore order.

Assessment: In my evaluation, the number of Sunni Jihadist groups in Ain al-Hilweh Camp and the surrounding area equal a couple dozen – perhaps a few hundred – militants. It is possible that these groups are primarily based in a specific part of the camp called Al-Tawari.

The circumstances and background of the shooting are unclear as of now.

According to one source, known to be reliable, the clash took place between Fatah al-Islam and a Palestinian organization called The Popular Front – The General Command (PFGC). This Palestinian organization, under the leadership of Ahmad Jibril, is based in Syria and has a presence in Lebanon as well. The PFGC fights along-side Assad’s military forces in the war in Syria. As expected, the PFGC is criticized in the Arab world for its support of Assad’s rule. Fatah al-Islam, on the other hand, fights against Assad’s forces in Syria. It is very likely that that is the reason for the clashes.

In my analysis, this incident should be also viewed in the wider context:

As the war in Syria percolates into Lebanon and Iraq, the Sunni-Shiite tension continually escalates.

The incident in Ain al-Hilweh is a reflection of the war in Syria. This incident could potentially intensify the tension between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon and specifically between the Sunni-Jihadist groups on the one hand and the Shiite-Hezbollah on the other hand.

The war in Syria presents a dilemma to Fatah and Hamas in Lebanon:

On the one hand, they – the leading Palestinian organizations – are trying to distance themselves from the escalating Sunni–Shiite tension in Lebanon. They don’t want to get on a collision track with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

On the other hand, as part of the Sunni Arab world, they cannot be looked upon by the Arab world as adopting a policy of neutrality while Syrian Sunnis are being killed in the war in Syria.

Fatah and Hamas’ way to bypass this dilemma is by tolerating – under careful watch – the presence of Sunni Jihadist Salafi groups which fight Assad’s rule (like Fatah al-Islam) in the camp.

Therefore, on the one hand, Fatah and Hamas allow the Jihadist Salafi groups to exist, and on the other hand, they restrict their actions.

This is Fatah and Hamas’ tactic to hint at their support for the Sunnis in Syria that are fighting against Assad’s rule without risking a collision with the Shiites in Lebanon (Hezbollah) and without risking an inner Palestinian collision with PFGC – Assad’s Palestinian ally.

It is likely that Fatah and Hamas will continue this policy in Lebanon as long as they can..

End of Intelligence Bulletin March 12, 2013

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