Lebanese police invaded a flat in Tripoli 7 days ago tied to the Fatah al-Islam called Nahr al-Bared. It’s a Palestinian Refugee camp on the coast, where about 30,000 displaced refugees live. I can easily see how radical jihadism could spread within the walls of such a large camp, and this is a lesson for the 13 other refugee camps in Lebanon, and for 4.3m+ Palestinian Refugees in the Pan-Arabic region. Though considered small and marginal, Fatah al-Islam has been linked to sporadic bomb attacks that have hit Christian areas of Lebanon recently. Once the group was provoked, they responded by firing at the military posts around the camp and hijacking military vehicles. Shootouts have happened for 7 consecutive days.
There’s been more internal violence this week since Lebanon’s Civil War in 1970-1990. Since Hizbullah’s war with Israel last year (known to Israelis as the Second Lebanon War) Lebanon’s Western-backed government has been locked in a stand-off against a pro-Syrian coalition, led by Hizbullah, the Shia party, over the opposition’s demand for a veto-wielding share of cabinet seats. Lebanese political structure is obviously flawed if groups are barred from influence. Though the fighting in the north pits a widely disparaged Sunni Muslim group against a national army that embraces all Lebanon’s faiths, I’m sure Lebanese view the clash through the prism of this wider political dispute over power in the government.
Lebanon is suspecting that Syria has something to do with this, since it just ended a 29-year occupation of Lebanon, and it might want to get involved in Lebanese politics. Another alleged Syrian aim is to block the setting up of an international tribunal to try suspects in a string of political murders beginning with the assassination in February 2005 of Rafik Hariri, a five-times Lebanese prime minister. Mass protests after his death is what shamed Syria into withdrawing its troops–but it left in place many forces that concur with Syria’s view of Lebanon as a bulwark against Western influence. Lebanon says that it’s no secret Fatah al-Islam is linked to the Syrian Fatah al-Intifada. Lebanon has 400,000 Palestinian refugees, and Syria is even accused of recruiting them into jihadist groups to attack the US presence in Iraq and the Lebanese army.
Hizbullah is a terrorist organization to the Bush Administration. But once this violence erupted in shootouts so far involving stolen tanks and rocket fire throughout the cities, Hizbullah and other rival political parties united to condemn Fatah al-Islam. Hizbullah even urged the Lebanese government to storm the camp and destroy the radicals. But just last year Hizbullah was shelling cities in Israel.
The US military was commanded to relieve the Lebanese army with weapons-aid, which it used to bomb indiscriminately on civilian Palestinians in the camp. One UN aid convoy crept into the camp, but was forced to retreat under heavy fire. At one point Palestinians inside the camp started protesting Fatah al-Islam and were gunned down. They were obviously holding the camp hostage at that point, but the Lebanese army kept shelling indiscriminately.