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A Palestinian-Hezbollah War in Lebanon?

by FRANKLIN LAMB

Ain el Helweh camp, Lebanon

It’s not just the leadership of the Zionist regime still occupying Palestine, six decades after the 1948 Nakba, that appears to be salivating at the current stoking of  current tensions between the Palestinian Resistance and in some respects, its historic off-spring Hezbollah.

From Tel Aviv, to Amman, Riyadh, the Gulf Kingdoms to Washington DC and beyond, the forces allied against the Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah-Palestinian Resistance are working on yet another project to weaken and hopefully destroy all four.

It won’t be easy, but it is reportedly a key element among the anti-Resistance forces still seeking regime change in Syria. Even while some of these governments have been playing down their central goal of regime change in public. The same governments appear to be fantasizing that by building up the Lebanese army with a pledged $ three billion from Riyadh, its troops will somehow confront Hezbollah and its allies as part of a long-term “beat em or bleed em” project.

Patrick Cockburn writing recently in the UK Independent  and Counterpunch accurately summarized situation of  “Anti-Shia hate propaganda spread by Sunni religious figures sponsored by, or based in, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, is creating the ingredients for a sectarian civil war engulfing the entire Muslim world.”

The egging on the Palestinian and Hezbollah to confront each other has increased over the past three months in Lebanon’s camps and particularly from some of the local Sunni and Christian power centers. This in addition to continuing support for various ‘militia of the month’ groups terrorizing the population of the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as essentially imprisoning without food and medical care the remaining 17,000 out of a March 2011 population of 250,000 Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk camp in Damascus.

This is not to say that there are no continuing, and sometimes long held tensions among a small percentage of the Palestinians in Lebanon and some among Hezbollah and its allies, the Amal Movement and Michele Aoun’s, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). It is the latter who is among the most anti-Palestinian of the Christian warlords and who some in Hezbollah and Palestinian factions cite for blocking Hezbollah from pushing for the right to work and to own a home for Palestinians in Lebanon. As for Amal,  this Hezbollah’s Shia ally, is widely believed to  have killed more Palestinians in Lebanon during the 1985-88 camp massacres ( it’s a misnomer to call them “wars” as the camps were basically defenseless) than Zionists have in the past 60 years. To this day, many Palestinians take deep umbrage with the long-time Amal leader posters placed outside Shatila and other camps since he is fairly universally despised by Palestinians in Lebanon for giving the orders for slaughtering so many of them. Attempts to remove his posters-portraits from Palestinian camps which are considered a provocation by many, risk facing his armed militia that occupies part of Shatila. The Sunni and Shia populations in the camps largely co-exist in a tense but generally peaceful juxtaposition with refugees from Syria. But it’s not the quality of relations that obtained before the Syria crisis and Hezbollah’s involvement there.

Hezbollah also has several reasons to question Palestinian support of the “National Lebanon Resistance” which the Party of God leads. There has been some evidence of individual Palestinians supporting anti-Hezbollah militia forces and political parties in Lebanon, and, according to camp officials they admit that some individual Palestinians go and return to Syria to fight against the Assad regime. Some who are close to Hezbollah claim that many Palestinians don’t appreciate that the organization is the main supporter of their cause to return to Palestine and are ingrates for all that Hezbollah does for them. Rebuttals include that regrettably Hezbollah has done little for Palestinians living in Lebanon’s camps and  that Hezbollah has to date refused to use its political power to force Lebanon to comply with international law and grant elementary civil rights to them, including the rights to work and to own a home.

Against this backdrop, Al-Nusra Front leader Abou Mohammed al-Jawlani said that the Al-Qaeda-linked organization is active on Lebanese soil in order to help the Sunnis including Palestinians face the “injustice” of Shiite Hezbollah. “Lebanon’s Sunni are requesting that the mujahideen intervene to lift up the injustice they are suffering from at the hands of Hezbollah and similar militias,” Jawlani said in an interview on Al-Jazeera recently.

Shiite-populated areas across Lebanon have been the target of terror attacks since Hezbollah declared it was fighting on the side of the Syrian regime in May. Three car bomb attacks have targeted southern Beirut in recent months while a number of IED attacks have occurred in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.

The head of the Islamic Jihadist Movement in Ain al-Helweh camps, Sheikh Jamal Khattab, voiced fears on 1/8/14 of a possible armed sectarian confrontation between Hezbollah and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon if the party did not revise its policies at home and in Syria.  Sheikh Khattab told the Beirut Daily Star that “any fighting between Palestinians and Hezbollah could be worse than the three year violence between the Amal militia and Palestinians in the 1980’s, known as the “war of the camps.” (read: massacres) That conflict in which largely Shia forces attacked Sunni was not considered particularly sectarian and Hezbollah helped end it and protect the overwhelmingly Sunni Palestinians civilian population.  Today it would be a Sunni vs. Shia  war with regional and international consequences given the poisonous sea-change in  sectarian relations since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In Ain al-Helweh and other camps, posters of local men killed while fighting alongside Syrian rebels or against U.S. troops in Iraq are tacked up throughout the camp. Lebanese security sources claim that Palestinian Islamist groups in Ain al-Hilweh, particularly Usbat al-Ansar, Jund al-Sham, Fatah al-Islam, other Salafist groups and supporters of controversial fugitive Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir have all finalized preparations to defend Sidon against any attack by Hezbollah’s organized and trained “Resistance Brigades”. Rumors abound that these groups are being financed for this purpose by certain of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries and some Lebanese pro-Western March 14 parties.  These groups and some of their sponsors consider conditions ripe in Lebanon for an expanded war against “Shia infidels” and have pans to bring it here. Several groups now fighting in Syria claim to seek a wider war “against Shia infidels “and pledge to bring the Sunni-Shia war here.

The Palestinian Follow-Up Committee, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Fatah and the Palestinian National Security Forces have all strongly condemned as haphazard an irresponsible accusations against Ain el-Hilweh refugees camp after the assassination of ex-Finance Minister and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s adviser, Mohammed Shatah, Also recent harassment of passersby near Ain el Helweh camp  remind some of the tight grip the army continues on Nahr al Bared, near Tripoli in the north of Lebanon. Based on interviews by this observer with residents of Ain el-Helweh, there clearly are supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades among others. But one can find the same across Lebanon especially in Sunni areas. The officials claim that while they cannot prevent anyone from joining the fighting in Syria, all Palestinian groups in Lebanon and Syria and elsewhere have consistently maintained their policy of non-involvement in the Syrian crisis.  Yet some Palestinian Islamist factions and camp residents criticize Hezbollah’s  armed support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

For their part, some pro-Hezbollah groups and many Lebanese citizens are suspicious of possible Palestinian involvement in recent terror attacks in Dahiyeh and the recent bombing of the Iranian Embassy. In point of fact, one of the two suicide bombers who attacked the Iranian Embassy on 11/17/13 was a Palestinian named Mouin Abu Dahr. His mother is a Shiite and his father a Sunni. Ain al-Hilweh is also in the spotlight currently due to the arrest of Majid al-Majid, the leader of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Majid is believed to have lived in Ain al-Hilweh since 2012.

Israel and its new and longtime allies seek Sunni-Shia war and the sooner the better.  They also favor the continuation of the Syria crisis for the reason they consider Hezbollah is squandering some of their best fighters and commanders and well as their weapons stores. Western Diplomats have spoken about US-Israeli hopes that Syria will be Hezbollah’s Achilles heel and Iran’s Vietnam. Meanwhile Israeli media has commented on the views of some officials who are claiming that Hezbollah has shifted its attention to Syria and away from the southern front with occupied Palestine.

Time will tell.

But for its part Hezbollah maintains that by defending Lebanon and fighting ” takferi terrorists” it is using only five percent of  its capacity to confront Israel.  One source close to the Resistance reported that “Hezbollah has self-sufficiency when it comes to the missiles, strategic and non-strategic weapons. All these weapons are quite abundant. Any additional equipment will constitute a negative factor because there is no need for them. All the weapons that are manufactured by Iran or owned by Syria are also available for Hezbollah. The land forces and the Special Forces fighting in Syria have acquired a lot of practical and intelligence related experience and a force of maneuvering on the land.  This experience will be used when the war with Israel begins again.”

The Sunni and the Shia just as with the Palestinians and Hezbollah need each other for many reasons including to confront growing Islamophobia, anti-Arab hate propaganda and the deepening and broadening Apartheid occupation of Palestine.

All must work to tamp down their differences publicly and privately while working to neutralize both Sunni and Shia sectarian provocateurs, domestic, regional and international that today are seeking internecine and sectarian violence in order to weaken both.

Franklin Lamb is a former Democratic National Committee Member representing Oregon.  He volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program.

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com).

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