Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Fatah, the largest faction of the movement, is rapidly losing control of Palestinian refugee camps in the region, specifically those in Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine, having already lost direction of those in Syria.
The Lebanese authorities have warned Fatah’s leader in Lebanon, Munir Maqdah, to take control of the situation to avoid further serious confrontations in the camp between Islamists and Fatah supporters following a number of bloody clashes. The Lebanese authorities are specifically worried about the camp unrest further destabilising Lebanon as the country battles a spill over from the Syrian civil war.
The warning followed a Palestinian being identified as one of the perpetrators of a double suicide bombing targeting the Iranian cultural centre in southern Beirut in February. Officials are specifically concerned that economic deprivation in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon has laid fertile ground for extremist militant groups.
The sense of despair driving some Palestinians to join such groups is what they perceive as a lack of rights and entitlements; these frequently include being denied the right to own property and to work in many specific fields, under the terms of strict laws established to prevent their naturalisation in the various host countries.
Fatah Central Committee member Azzam Al Ahmad, who is based in Ramallah, said plans were made to address this problem when he and a Fatah delegation visited Lebanon in February and, he added, such plans could include neutralising the extremists.
The Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are technically under the control of the PLO, since the signing of a 1969 agreement and, as a result, the Lebanese army largely refrains from entering or policing them.
However, growing insecurity in the country has been exacerbated by the fact that most of the 2000 Palestinians, employed in guarding the camps in Lebanon, have been reintegrated into the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) security forces in the Palestinian Territories.
Of the approximate 70 guards who do remain, their main responsibilities include organising traffic in the camps; it is widely acknowledged that they lack adequate training and experience in dealing with the rising chaos.
Meanwhile, the situation in West Bank refugee camps continues to deteriorate. Palestinian security forces have been conducting frequent raids, often clashing with gunmen and rioting youths, as the PA struggles to maintain security among its increasingly restless and volatile populace.
Not even the relatively wealthy and calm Ramallah, the West Bank’s de facto capital, has been spared from outbreaks of violence.
Riot police wielded truncheons and fired into the air recently to disperse hundreds of rampaging youths who had blocked city streets and forced store owners to shut their doors.
The youths from the nearby refugee camp of Jelazon were angered by yet another unarmed Palestinian being killed by Israeli security forces during clashes.
Over the last few months, Palestinian security forces have searched refugee camps for militants, sparking gun- fights that ended with the deaths of two people, injuries to several security personnel and camp residents, and the arrests of dozens of refugees.
Israeli analyst Pinhas Inbari observed that the PA appears to have lost control over several of the camps, including Balata near Nablus, Jenin camp in the northern West Bank, and the Qalandia camp near Jerusalem. “The PA tried the diplomatic approach, first by trying to reason with the gunmen and the residents, but that has failed. They then tried launching military assaults, but those are not working either,” Inbari told The Middle East.
Complicating the situation are the 550,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and the Israeli government’s push to increase Jewish settlements in the territory it expropriated in the 1967 War.
Israeli planners recently gave final approval for 558 apartments in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want to make the capital of their future state. Palestinian officials said the decision undermines fragile US-brokered negotiations with Israel on setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Meanwhile, skirmishes between Israeli settlers and Palestinians add to the fermenting West Bank violence. Last year, Palestinian attacks resulted in the deaths of three Israeli security force members and one settler, and Israeli troops fatally shot 27 Palestinians, according to official statistics.
Warning of a possible uprising, a senior Israeli Defence Forces officer serving in the West Bank said that in his area there are “some 100,000 Palestinians who have a score to settle with us, and each could do so at any moment.”
Palestinian security forces comprise about 75,000 men, according to official statistics. Fuelled by grinding poverty and political divisions, Palestinian discontent is spilling over into rage, boosting militants’ recruitment efforts in refugee camps, analysts say.
Furthermore, a number of Palestinians with links and sympathies to Al Qaeda and other jihadi groups have been arrested and killed by Israeli security forces as the influence of the Syrian civil war continues to seep into neighbouring countries.
Though the Palestinian Authority has tried to rid the refugee camps of militants, it has failed to arrest significant numbers of known lawbreakers. Several raids of the Jenin camp failed to detain members of Islamic Jihad who have engaged in shootouts with PA security forces and also were wanted by Israeli authorities.
About 750,000 Palestinian refugees have registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency throughout the West Bank’s 19 camps, according to the agency.
Hundreds of unemployed men – many of them foot soldiers of militant groups and still armed – reside in the camps. They accuse the PA of corruption, cronyism and aiding Israel’s occupation by doing much of the Jewish state’s dirty work. Funeral processions for Palestinians shot dead by Israeli security forces have been punctuated by gunmen in the refugee camps firing into the air.
Samir Awad, a political science professor at Birzeit University, near Ramallah told The Middle East: “The PA is trying to avoid clashes with these gunmen, they realise they have lost full control of the camps. The last thing the Palestinian leadership wants is confrontations with Fatah gunmen who are politically associated with the Ramallah government.”
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