Lebanese Troops Battle Militants: Analysis
At least 70 people have been killed in two days of raging violence at the
Nahr Al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli in Lebanon.
The second day of violence has many experts saying that this is the worst inter-Lebanese violence seen since the 1975-1990 Civil War.
As Lebanese government troops shell the refugee camp the forces of Fatah al-Islam, loosely associated with the Palestinian arm of Fatah, Al-Queda and pro-Syrian forces, returned heavy machine gun fire from their protected position within the camp.
The government claims that Fatah al-Islam is being used by Syria
as a destabilizing force as the United Nations attempts to set up an International Court tribunal to try suspects in the murder of Former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Hariri was assassinated in a car-bombing in February of 2005 along with 22 other people. It is speculated that the Syrian government was involved with the assassination. On May 17 of this year, the United States, Britain
circulated a draft resolution which would establish a tribunal to try suspects in Hariri's murder.
David Schenker, senior fellow in Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said that the fighting between militants and the government is connected to the proposed establishment of this tribunal. Schenker also served as an aid to top Pentagon officials on Syria,
and the Palestinian Territories.
"Fatah al-Islam is a pro-Syrian, Al-Queda influenced splinter group of
Fatah as seen in Gaza and the West Bank," said Schenker. "Syria
is dead set against the tribunal. The timing of the fighting relates
directly to the UN draft proposal.”
Since the establishment of the modern Lebanese state in 1920, Syria
has refused to acknowledge Lebanon’s
sovereignty and has hoped to annex the smaller country and make it a part of
Hizbullah, affiliated with Syria
since 1985, has been one of many armed militant groups operating in Lebanon
whose fundamentalist activities have destabilized the embattled
government. Since the second war with Israel
during the summer of 2006, the Lebanese government has become increasingly
concerned with the level of fundamentalist activity in the Palestinian refugee camps.
Since a 1969 Arab accord preventing the Lebanese army from entering the
refugee camps, they have become a hotbed for fundamentalist activity.
Meyrav Wurmser, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. is a leading scholar of the Arab world and recently published an article on the nexus between Hizbullah, Iran
"Following 9/11, many Al-Queda operatives escaped from Afghanistan
and spread out to continue training. Within a year, the Palestinian
refugees provided them a safe haven particularly because of the connection
between the refugees, Hizbullah and Iran.
"The Lebanese government has not been happy about it but there hasn't
been much they could do. Fatah al-Islam is growing more powerful within the camps and the government is increasingly worried about this especially because it could threaten the balance of power in Lebanon."
The fighting raised fears that more wide spread violence might erupt in the other twelve Palestinian refugee camps, according to an article in the New York Times. Like Nahr Al-Bared, these camps
have been a breeding ground for fundamentalist activity given the extreme
poverty and lawlessness in the absence of any governing force.
“In addition to the Hariri issue,” said Wurmser, “I think most likely the
reason the government is acting now is because the camps have become a place
for these groups to fester and the Lebanese government is worried. They are worried that this is going to be a real nightmare like back in 1975.
“These camps have various militias walking around armed and the government cannot let it get any more out of control.
It has just been getting worse and worse there.”
Schenker, optimistically believes that there has been some good coming out of the recent violence.
“The question is: what has this latest round of violence accomplished,” said Schenker. “What is has done is unite
much of the country against Fatah al-Islam.”
But, perhaps, all it has done is unite the country against the Palestinian refugees.
“We wish the government would destroy the whole camp and the rest of the
camps,” said Ahmad al-Marooq echoing the sentiments of a crowd in Tripoli showing support for government troops as reported in the New York Times.
“Nothing good comes out of the Palestinians.”
David Makovsky, also of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is
the director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process.
“This is a reminder that there are different shades of Islamic militancy,” said Makovsky. “There is the shade that is Hamas and the shade that is Al-Queda shade. They are not territorialists at all. They just want to destroy the West. It is a kind of a reminder whenever we think
things are bad things can get even worse.”