Rachelle Kliger
The Middle East Report
January 14, 2010 - 1:00am

A row between the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and a clan affiliated with Fatah has turned violent as both sides claim control over a mosque in a Beirut suburb.

The Furqan Mosque, located in the southern suburb of the Lebanese capital, has become a new battleground for the intra-Palestinian struggle.

Two people were lightly wounded in a brawl between the parties on Tuesday, according to Lebanese news reports.

Tensions between the two sides began around two weeks ago when The Islamic Jihad decided to take control of the mosque, which was renovated with charity money the organization collected.

The Al-Ashwah family, which is affiliated with the Fatah movement, was consequently barred from running the mosque even though they have controlled it since the building was constructed on their land.

The brawl is highlighting broader inter-factional differences between the various Palestinian political divisions.

“Within the camps you always have competition between the factions,” Sahar Atrache, an analyst for the International Crisis Group in Beirut told The Media Line. “Mainly [it’s] between what’s called the PLO and the Tahaluf, which is an alliance of factions that includes the Islamic Jihad, Hamas and several other factions which are, for the most part, pro-Syrian.”

“Most of the camps have conflicts between the two sides,” she continued. “In some cases there’s a conflict between Hamas and Fatah and in other cases it’s broader. Each side or faction is trying to control the camp or part of the camp.”

The conflict in Burj Al-Barajneh was taken up a notch when members of the Al-Ashwah family set fire to Islamic Jihad offices in the camp.

On Tuesday morning masked and armed men belonging to Islamic Jihad proceeded to surround the mosque and open fire in order to seize it by force.

Worshipers inside the mosque fled with the imam (religious cleric) to a smaller mosque inside the camp.
Atrache said political and family affiliations were often interlocked in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and it was hard to separate the two factors.

“You can’t talk about the individual or family dispute without including the political side,” she said. “The politics will affect any individual conflict because in one way or another, the family or individual belongs to a group or a faction, so this generates a broader conflict and it will be inter-factional.”

According to local media there are suggestions fighting was sparked by rumors of a weapons cache hidden beneath the Furqan mosque but many locals are skeptical weapons would be hidden near such a main throughway rather than inside the camp itself.

The mosque is located at the entrance to the Burj Al-Barajneh refugee camp, located on a main road connecting Beirut’s international airport to Beirut’s southern suburb.

Hassan Nassar, a resident of the camp, told A-Sharq Al-Awsat that the security situation in the camp was not as bad as reports were making it out to be.

“Compared to other camps, Burj Al-Barajneh is considered a quiet and secure camp,” he said. “Any problems that arise among the residents can be resolved quickly so they don’t get worse and most of the incidents are isolated. There are no extremist radical movements in the camp, as there are in other camps like Ein Al-Hilweh.”

Burj Al-Barajna is one of 12 Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and accommodates approximately 16,000 refugees.

More than 420,000 Palestinian refugees are registered in Lebanon with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Most are descendents of those who either fled or were forced out of their homes during the war of 1948. They are deprived of basic economic and political rights and many live in inadequate conditions. They are allowed to bear weapons within the camps, which are off limits to the Lebanese authorities.

Rivalries and violent conflicts among the political factions in Lebanese refugee camps are not new, and often reflect tension between factions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, especially between Fatah and Hamas.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017