By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East
SIDON, Lebanon – On March 20, clashes broke out between Fatah security and militant factions in Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon. Tensions rose when members of Fatah arrested Samir Maarouf, a commander in Jund al-Sham, and handed him over to the Lebanese army. Maarouf is wanted by Lebanon for crimes relating to violence and terrorism, including charges of planting a bomb in a Fatah official’s house in the camp.
Members of Jund al-Sham opened fired on Fatah offices located inside the camp immediately following Maarouf’s arrest. The two sides launched rocket-propelled grenades and exchanged gunfire. Fighting continued late into the evening. Fighting resumed on March 21, when a grenade was thrown into the house of a senior Fatah official. While there were no causalities, the building suffered severe damage.
Fatah reports that one of its members was killed and four wounded during the two day clash. The violence caused hundreds of civilians to flee and seek shelter in the nearby city of Sidon. While a ceasefire was declared on March 22, many feared that the violence has not ended and did not immediately return to the camp.
According to Fatah officials, a ceasefire was brokered after Osbat al-Ansar, another Islamic group, intervened and acted as a mediator. The terms of the ceasefire require that members of Jund al-Sham leave the camp. Fatah and Lebanese officials feared that these clashes would escalate and result in a conflict similar to that of the Nahr al-Bared camp, which involved three months of fighting between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam militants.
Like many of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Ein al-Hilweh is under Palestinian jurisdiction and the Lebanese army and law enforcement officers are prohibited from entering. Jund al-Sham denounced Maarouf’s arrest as improper and being “an arrangement involving non-Palestinians.”
Mounir al-Maqdah, the commander of Fatah’s armed wing, countered by stating that “Maarouf’s activities went beyond the camp’s limits and he is wanted by the Lebanese authorities for his involvement in several security files as well as planning to plant a bomb in the home of a senior Fatah official.” Maqdah added that “any security matter within the camp is the business of the Lebanese-Palestinian Follow-up Committee and the joint Palestinian Armed Forces.”
Jund al-Sham is a radical militant organization comprising of about 50 members. It is a splinter group from another Palestinian extremist group, Asbat al-Ansar, based in Ein el-Hilweh. The group has claimed responsibility for several bombings and violent gun battles throughout Lebanon and Syria. The group fought against the Lebanese army during its conflict with militants in the Nahr al-Bared camp.
For more information, please see:
Al Arabiya News Channel – Heavy Fighting Erupts in Lebanon Refugee Camp – 22 March 2008
The Daily Star – Hundreds Flee as Ain al-Hilweh Factions Clash – 22 March 2008
Naharnet – Fatah-Jund al-Sham Fight it Out in Ein al-Hilweh, Casualties – 22 March 2008
Ya Libnan – Ceasefire Ends Clash in Southern Lebanon Camp – 22 March 2008
BBC – Factions Fight in Lebanese Camp – 21 March 2008
International Herald Tribune – Islamic Militants Clash with Fatah Guerrillas in Refugee Camp in Southern Lebanon – 21 March 2008