Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Nahr el-Bared camp

Few of us had ever heard of the Palestinian camp at Nahr el-Bared in Tripoli before the current conflict. It is one of 12 major camps in Lebanon housing 400,000 Palestinians (12.5% of the total population).
There is little love lost between the Lebanese and the Palestinians. Not only are the Palestinians not allowed Lebanese citizenship and are restricted to terribly overcrowded camps, but they are not allowed to work in most jobs within Lebanon itself. The Lebanese, and especially the Christians, make sure that there is no way that the Palestinians can integrate into their society. Because of this mutual antagonism, when the Phalangist militia was allowed to enter the Sabra and Shatillah camps in Beirut in 1982 by the IDF, they massacred Palestinian civilians there.
Since then, under an agreement previously enforced by the Syrian Army, no Lebanese forces, including the Lebanese Army (LA), have been allowed into these camps. The net result is that they have become a world unto themselves, where all sorts of extremist idology, including that of al Qaeda, have developed armed groups.
This is the basis for the clash inTripoli between the Fatah al Islam and the LA. Once the LA started to bombard Nahr el-Bared, Palestinian civilians were allowed to leave, but noone knows exactly how many civilians are left inside or were killed as the LA slowly occupies the camp (can you imagine the international furore if the IDF bombarded a Palestinian camp in the same way).
This clash may prove to be the first step of a new attempt by the Lebanese Govt. to extend its sovereignty over all the camps. Most of the Palestinian groups, including Hamas, have indicated their acceptance of the LA fighting the Fatah al Islam, but they might not be so accepting of the LA entering Nahr el-Bared or the other camps. There are reports now of similar clashes at other camps in Lebanon, and it is likely that this confilct will escalate. If it does, and the LA manages to enter other camps, then the situation in Lebanon could become a historic watershed. After all it is an anomaly that a foreign group is allowed autonomous camps inside another country whose armed forces are not allowed to enter them It now depends on whether or not the LA can actually occupy the other camps and whether or not the rest of the Palestinian organizations accept this or oppose the LA militarily. The future of Lebanon and the international situation of the Palestinians may depend on the results of these clashes.


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