Mohammed Zaatari
The Daily Star
November 15, 2012 - 1:00am

SIDON, Lebanon: Palestinian officials are concerned about mounting sectarian tension in Sidon’s Taamir neighborhood, and stress that they want to remain detached from Lebanese affairs.

The comments were made following armed clashes which erupted there last weekend between supporters of Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir and Hezbollah supporters, killing three. Also, Tuesday night, an explosion ripped through Taamir, close to the site of Sunday’s deadly clashes, damaging seven vehicles but causing no injuries.

An impoverished and densely populated suburb of the southern city, Taamir has Sunni and Shiite residents, and is next door to the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh. Officials are concerned that tension might spread from Taamir to the camp, which houses rival Palestinian factions, including extremist ones, and perhaps also to the city of Sidon itself.

As such, officials in Ain al-Hilweh are behaving cautiously with regards to this issue but rumors threaten to exacerbate the situation, including one recent rumor that members of Islamist group Jund al-Sham, whose stronghold is in an area of Taamir, have asked some Shiite residents to move away from the area.

However, Haitham Shaabi, an official in Jund al-Sham, dismissed these rumors, and stressed that Taamir is a safe area and the group wants to protect Shiites, as they are also Muslims.

Life in the Ain al-Hilweh camp Wednesday seemed unaffected by recent events, with the vegetable market bustling with people, students attending school, and gunmen appearing relaxed.

Sheikh Jamal Khattab, the head of the Islamic Jihadist Movement, said his group is working on preventing the eruption of Sunni-Shiite strife.

“We are working on preventing any sectarian strife from breaking out, because if it does it would not distinguish between a Palestinian and a Lebanese ... we are afraid of sectarian feelings that spare no one,” he told The Daily Star Wednesday.

He added that his group is working to form a delegation, including representatives from Islamist groups in the camp, to hold talks with Assir in order to restore peace.

Similarly, officials from Usbat al-Ansar, an Islamist group in the camp, said that they would only ever intervene in local events in order to restore peace. As such, its senior commanders have not been making media appearances over the last few days.

Relations between Usbat al-Asmar and Hezbollah improved two years ago, with officials from both groups exchanging visits. Also, Hezbollah provided social aid to some neighborhoods in Ain al-Hilweh.

These improved relations may be helpful in minimizing any sectarian tension in the camp, observers say.

Sources familiar with the situation in Ain al-Hilweh said that Islamist groups have assured Lebanese officials within the city that they can deter some extremist Islamist elements within the camp, who support Assir, from helping him in any future battle. However, they have no control over extremists within Taamir.

Salah Youssef, a member of the political bureau of the Palestinian Liberation Front, said he was concerned about the very sensitive security situation in Taamir, given the sectarian diversity of the area and its proximity to the camp.

“We feel there are attempts to drag Palestinians into Lebanese disputes,” he said.

Youssef stressed that all Palestinian groups within the camp, including Islamists, are keen on remaining neutral and not being dragged into any strife.

“This area [Taamir] is under the control of the Lebanese authorities, and there is communication and coordination with some Islamist groups to control some individuals that could be dragged into disputes.

“The official Palestinian stance is clear. We are neutral and we will not meddle in Lebanese affairs,” he added.

For his part, Maj. Gen. Sobhi Abu Arab, the head of the Palestinian National Security Forces, said Palestinian groups and security bodies in Ain al-Hilweh have taken measures to control the situation within the camp.

“This came after a feeling that the area is witnessing tension. The area falls under the authority of the Lebanese state, and there is cooperation and communication to prevent the camp being dragged into any conflict,” said Abu Arab.

He reiterated that the Palestinian stance is against interfering in Lebanese affairs, which, he said, was highlighted by the fact Azzam al-Ahmad, the official responsible for Lebanon in the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, is currently visiting Lebanon.

Read more:
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::


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