The Nahr al-Bared Tragedy « The Fanonite

Thanks to the Fanonite for another great post!  It is illuminating how little regard there is for the suffering of the camps residents among the big players…

The Lebanese Army distinguished itself last year when during Israel’s brutal invasion one of its General’s confronted the invaders with — tea! None of this ‘courtesty’ is in evidence today as it indiscriminately bombs the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp near Tripoli in its confrontation with Fatah al-Islam. But first, a little on Fatah al-Islam.

Ever since the fighting broke out, the US-backed Lebanese government has received widespread support from around the world. Depending on the geographical provenance of the support, the militants are being described as al-Qaida-linked, or Syrian-backed. But an important detail of the group’s background is being consistently overlooked. In March Seymour Hersh reported:

Alastair Crooke, who spent nearly thirty years in MI6, the British intelligence service, and now works for Conflicts Forum, a think tank in Beirut, told me, “The Lebanese government is opening space for these people to come in. It could be very dangerous.” Crooke said that one Sunni extremist group, Fatah al-Islam, had splintered from its pro-Syrian parent group, Fatah al-Intifada, in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, in northern Lebanon. Its membership at the time was less than two hundred. “I was told that within twenty-four hours they were being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government’s interests—presumably to take on Hezbollah,” Crooke said.

The Humanitarian Crisis

Of the nearly 50,000 refugees in the Nahr al-Bared camp, nearly 10,000 have sought refuge in the nearby Beddawi camp. The four days of fighting have killed nearly a 100, including 32 soldiers and 22 militants. According to Reuters

The Lebanese army – which, under a 1969 Arab agreement, does not enter any of Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps – has been bombarding positions in the camp suspected to be held by Fatah al-Islam fighters…many camp residents say tank and artillery fire has been indiscriminate…Camp residents and doctors say there are dozens of dead civilians.  

Earlier on Wednesday, the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) estimated that about 2,000 families, which average at least five members per family, had fled Nahr al-Bared since Tuesday evening.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Wednesday distributed food parcels to last five days for 3,000 people in Kawkab School, where displaced people – the majority women, children and infants – are living in filthy conditions

Civilians and Aid Workers in the Crosshairs

On Tuesday, a UNRWA convoy reportedly came under fire from positions held by the Lebanese army, after moving only a few hundred metres into the camp…[Nadim] Houry [a Human Rights Watch researcher] said the Lebanese army had failed to observe international humanitarian law in its bombardment of civilian areas in the camp.

“We do not believe the army directly targeted civilians, but in its use of indiscriminate shelling, which has a disproportionate affect on civilians to combatants…We are also concerned that the army failed to provide safe corridors for the evacuation of civilians and the delivery of aid. It has taken three days for this to happen.”

A total of 130 civilians were evacuated to Safad Hospital. They suffered severe injuries as well as shock with 12 undergoing emergency surgery, said Dr Assad…

“We didn’t bring Fatah al-Islam into the camp. Of course we support the Lebanese army’s fight against them but they have destroyed houses and killed civilians,” said Bassam al-Saadi, who said he knew of 13 bodies which had been buried in the camp cemetery since Sunday.

Even the Israelis have never done to us what the Lebanese army have done,” shouted another evacuee.

Al Jazeera’s Exclusive Footage from Inside the Camp

The conditions in the refugee camps are far from tolerable to begin with. The indiscriminate nature of the attack is only compounding the tragedy. For example, Jeffrey Blankfort writes:

The situation in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon is something that most outsiders, including supporters of the Palestinian struggle, can not imagine. In 2004, I returned to Shatilla camp on the outskirts of Beirut for the first time since 1983 and found it to be far and away the most depressing place I have ever visited, much more so than anything I had seen in Gaza or the West Bank the previous year. It was an opinion that was shared by a friend from Deheisheh camp in the West Bank who also been to all three places and so one can imagine the frustrations of the residents of those camps in the north of Lebanon, like the others, betrayed by the world as well as the PA, with no hope of any changed future on the horizon. Combined with the ongoing crisis in Gaza, these are indeed the worst days for the Palestinians since, at least, 1967. Cui bono?

According to reports, the Lebanese Army is now planning an assault on the camp, ”after receiving a green light to go into the camp from Sultan Abul Aynain, Fatah’s chief in Lebanon…if Lebanese forces do enter Nahr al-Bared, it will break a decades-old precedent and raise the possibility of the army exerting security control inside Lebanon’s 11 other refugee camps.”

War Pays

Considering it was a bank robbery worth $1,500 that triggered the conflict, one can’t help but question the reasons behind the ferocity of the Lebanese Army’s response. AP reports:

Lebanon has asked the United States for $280 million in military assistance to help put down an uprising by Al Qaeda-inspired militants operating from a Palestinian refugee camp, the State Department said yesterday.

About $220 million would go to the Lebanese Armed Forces and $60 million to security forces, spokesman Sean McCormack said. The United States is weighing the request, he added…

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Karen Finn, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the Defense Department has been working to deliver a broad range of equipment and other materials to Lebanon.

“We hope to provide a robust package of security assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces in 2007 with more equipment and training,” Finn said.

She said the Pentagon is “concerned about mounting evidence that the Syrian and Iranian governments, Hezbollah, and their Lebanese allies are attempting to topple Lebanon’s legitimate and democratically elected government.”

Under the cover of assistance in Lebanon’s own ‘war on terror’, the US can now legitimately and openly start bolstering the Siniora government.

Sectarian Militia?

What of Hizbullah’s reaction? AP reports:

The Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah has so far backed Lebanon’s army in its confrontation with a Sunni radical group — despite the fact that Hezbollah has been pushing to topple the Lebanese government.

In a statement from the group that shows its complex stance, Hezbollah denounced the attacks against the Lebanese army — stressing the role of the army in safeguarding peace, but also tacitly criticised Lebanon’s current government.

“We feel that there is someone out there who wants to drag the army to this confrontation and bloody struggle … to serve well-known projects and aims. We are hearing calls for more escalation and fighting, which will ultimately lead to more chaos and confrontation in Lebanon,” the Hezbollah statement said. It called for a political solution to the crisis…

Political analysts have said Hezbollah, while supporting the army, does not want to back the government publicly and give it credit for fighting the Sunni radical group. Also, any whole-hearted backing by Hezbollah for Lebanese authorities could inflame animosity by Sunni militants against the Shi’ite group.

No condemnation of course of the indiscriminate bombing of Palestinian refugees stranded in the Camp. Sadly, in this instance, Hizbullah has behaved more like the sectarian militias of Iraq than the respected national resistance organizations many believe it to be.

Tinderbox

In order to make political captial out of this incident, some players — local, as well as foreign — are behaving in a highly irresponsible manner, and it could easily throw the whole region into a wider conflict. So far no one has spoken about the tragic circumstances of the refugees in the camp. Some Palestinians naturally are less than pleased.

Talking to the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite TV station on Monday, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) general command leader, Anwar Rajab, accused gunmen from the Al-Mustaqbal (’Future’) movement [Hariri’s militia] of violating a ceasefire, which was agreed on Monday morning.

A spokesperson from the Al-Mustaqbal movement denied the accusation.

Anwar Rajab warned of tensions spilling over into other areas. He said, “Nahr Al-Bared is not an orphan,” meaning there are similar refugee camps in Lebanon that will join forces to retaliate to the attacks.

Lebanon is home to more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees, according to UNRWA statistics. Many of them fled or were forced from their homes when Israel was created in 1948…

The head of the Damascus-based Hamas politburo, Khalid Mash’al, also telephoned the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, on Monday and demanded that he take the necessary measures to protect the Palestinians in Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp…Mash’al also made similar telephone calls to the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, and the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faysal.

The Nahr al-Bared Tragedy « The Fanonite

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