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New round of unrest in Ain al-Hilweh

Gunfights followed a foiled bombing targeting Mahmoud Issa, also known as Al-Lino, the head of Fatah’s security apparatus, Kifah al-Moussalah, in the South Lebanon camp of Ain al-Hilweh on Saturday. The gun battles, which pitted members of the radical Islamist group Jund al-Sham against Fatah, resulted in the death of one and the injury of eight others.

According Hajj Maher Oueid, head of Ansar Allah, an Islamic faction close to Hezbollah, the clashes were linked to the arrest of two members of Jund al-Sham who were accused of participating in an assassination attempt against Al-Lino on Friday, August 5. 

“Members of Al-Lino’s security [detail] usually sweep the road ahead of the Fatah commander, who walks to the Salahedine Mosque on Fridays. They spotted a man called Mahmoud Abdul Qader carrying a remote control linked to an explosive device,” Oueid told NOW Lebanon. “Abdul Qader was in radio contact with another member of Jund al-Sham who was helping him coordinate the operation. Both men were arrested.”

One of the men was wounded by Issa’s bodyguards during the arrest. Both men were later handed over to the army, according to Palestinian security forces. After the arrest, the families of the arrested Jund al-Sham members staged a protest in the camp and burned tires.

The attempt against Al-Lino, said a security source from Ain al-Hilweh, is linked to the attempted killing a few months ago of Oussama al-Shehabi, rumored to have replaced Abdul Rahman Awad as the head of terrorist group Fatah al-Islam, which engaged in a three-month war against the Lebanese army in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in 2007. Some of the group’s members fled to Ain al-Hilweh.

Last April, an explosion took place in front of Shehabi’s house in the camp. While some locals said the blast was caused by Shehabi accidentally setting off a bomb he was building, others claim someone threw a grenade at his house.

Al-Lino claims that the attempt on his life last week was the work of Jund al-Sham members who were executing Shehabi’s orders.

 “The objective of the assassination attempt was to damage the Fatah movement as a whole as well as [damage] the security of the Ain al-Hilweh camp,” Al-Lino told NOW Lebanon. “The perpetrators were seeking to create unrest at a very sensitive time, before the upcoming visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Lebanon,” expected in mid-August.

“Our investigation has shown that last week’s attempt was ordered by an external Palestinian faction, pretending to be a resistance movement and which is now manipulating the radical Islamic street,” he added.

Over the past four years, dozens of Jund al-Sham members have been killed in gunfights or in unsolved bombings. Security sources inside the camp have repeatedly accused Fatah members of masterminding the attacks. The arrival in Ain al-Hilweh of fugitive Fatah al-Islam members in the wake of the Nahr al-Bared war further complicated the political equation. Members of Jund al-Sham, which was officially disbanded, and Fatah al-Islam joined forces, taking residence in the Tawarik and Hotein quarters. Security sources in the camp estimate that there are 100 members between the two groups currently residing in the camp.

Ain al-Hilweh has been enjoying a period of relative calm over the past year since the restructuring of Fatah’s security apparatus as well as the establishment of a committee comprised of representatives of the various factions that is in charge of handling security incidents. Sources inside the camp noted that Osbat al-Ansar, which signed an unofficial truce last year with Fatah, helped keep the peace. When Al-Lino was appointed as the head of Kifah al-Moussalah, he kept the security situation in check with an iron fist.

“Fatah al-Islam and Jund al-Sham seem to be trying to fortify their presence inside the camp,” Al-Lino said.