[News] Who's Behind the Fighting in North Lebanon?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 24 12:26:12 EDT 2007


http://www.counterpunch.org/

May 24, 2007


CounterPunch Exclusive


Inside Narh al-Bared and Bedawi Refugee Camps


Who's Behind the Fighting in North Lebanon?

By FRANKLIN LAMB

Tripoli, Lebanon.

Wearing a beat-up ratty UNCHR tee-shirt left over 
from Bint Jbeil and the Israeli-Hezbollah July 
probably helped. As did, I suspect, the Red Cross 
jersey, my black and white checkered kaffieyh and 
the Palestinian flag taped to my lapel as I 
joined a group of Palestinian aid workers and 
slipped into Nahr el-Bared trying not to look conspicuous.

Our mission was to facilitate the delivery of 
food, blankets and mattresses, but I was also 
curious about the political situation. Who was 
behind the events that erupted so quickly and 
violently following a claimed 'bank robbery'? A 
heist that depending on who you talked to, netted 
the masked bandits $ 150,000, $ 1,500 or $ 150!

It seems that every Beirut media outlet has a 
different source of 'inside information' based on 
which Confession owns it and 'knows' the real 
culprits pulling the strings. But then, even we 
who are particularly obtuse have realized, as the 
late Rafic Hariri often counseled: "In Lebanon, 
believe nothing of what you are told and only half of what you see!"

My friends made we swear out loud that I would 
claim to be Canadian instead of American if Al 
Qaeda types stopped us inside the Camp. My 
impression was that they were not so worried 
about my safety but for their own if they got 
caught with me. It would not be the first time 
that I relied on my northern neighbors to get me 
out of a potential US nationality jam in the 
Middle East, so I ditched my American ID.

We were advised as we approached the Fatah al 
Islam stronghold that we would be in the 
cross-hairs of Lebanese army snipers from outside 
of Nahr el-Bared Camp as well as Fatah al-Islam 
snipers from the inside, and that any false move or bad luck could prove fatal.

After three days of shelling and more than 100 
dead and with no electricity or water, Nahr 
el-Baled reeks of burned and rotting flesh, 
charred houses with smoldering contents, raw 
sewage and the acrid smell of exploded mortars and tank rounds.

Press figures of 30,000-32,000 are not accurate. 
45,000 live in Bared! Contrary to some reports 
food and water still not being allowed in.

15 to 70 percent of some areas destroyed. Some 
light shooting this morning and afternoon. Army 
shelling at rate of 10-18 shells per minute from 
4:30 am to 10 am on Tuesday. Army will not allow 
Palestinian Red Crescent to move out civilians 
because they don't trust them. Only the Lebanese 
Red Cross is allowed. It is possible to enter 
Bared from the back (east side). The Army taking 
cameras of journalists they catch. The Lebanese 
government is controlling the information and 
don't want extent of damage known yet. Still 
unrecovered bodies. 40 per cent of the camp 
population have been evacuated. The rest don't 
want to leave out of fear of being shot or that 
they are losing their homes for the 5th time or more for some.

No electricity and cell phone batteries are 
dying. Relatives who fled are telling families to 
stay because there are not enough mattresses at 
Bedawi Camp. Bared evacuees are living up to 25 
in one room in Badawi schools etc. 3,000 evacuees 
in one school in Bedawi. UN aid is starting to 
arrive at Badawi but workers not able so far to 
deliver it to Bared due to attack on relief convoy on Tuesday.

I met Abdul Rahman Hallab famous for Lebanese 
candy factory in Tripoli. Helped him unload 5,000 
meals to evacuees from Bared staying in Badawi. He is Lebanese not Palestinian.

The camp population all say that Fatah Al-Islam 
came in September-October 2006 and have no 
relatives in the camp. They are from Saudi, 
Pakistan, Algeria, Iraq, and Tunisia and 
elsewhere. No Palestinians among them except some 
hanger ons. Most say they are paid by the Hariri group.

Reports that Fateh al-Islam helps people in Bared 
are denied. " All they do is pray, one woman told 
me..and do military training.. They are much more 
religious than the Shia" she said.

Population of Badawi camp was 15,000 and as of 
this morning it is 28,000. Four bodies arrived 
this morning at Safad, the only Palestinian Red 
Crescent Hospitals in north Lebanon.

I was told the army will have to destroy every 
house in Bared to remove Fateh al Islam.

I expect to stay in Bared tonight with aid 
workers. Some say FAI with die fighting others 
than a settlement could be negotiated. I may try 
the latter with NGO from Norway here. Not sure if 
anyone in government is interested. One minute 
ago a member of Fateh at_Islam walked into the 
medical office I am using at Safed Hospital and 
said they want a permanent cease fire and do not 
want more people killed or injured.

They claim to have no problem with the army

Now some background about Nahr el-Bared. Like the 
other Palestinian camps in Lebanon, it is 
inhabited by Palestinians who were forced from 
their homes, land, and personal property in 
1947-48, in order to make room for Jews from 
Europe and elsewhere prior to the May 15, 1948 founding of Israel.

Of the original 16 Refugee camps, set up to 
settle the more than 100,000 refugees crossing 
the border into Lebanon from Palestine during the 
Nakba, 12 official ones remain. The camp at Tal 
El-Za`tar was ethnically cleansed by Christian 
Phalange forces at the beginning of the 
1975-1990, Lebanese Civil War and the Nabatieh, 
Dikwaneh and Jisr el-Basha camps were destroyed 
by Israeli attacks and Lebanese militia and not 
rebuilt. Those remaining include the following 
which currently house more than half of Lebanon's 433,276 Palestinian refugees:

Al-Badawi, Burj El-Barajna, Jal El-Bahr, Sabra 
and Shatilla, Ain El-Helwa, Nahr El-Bared, 
Rashidieh, Burj El Shemali, El-Buss, Wavel, Mieh Mieh and Mar Elias.

Nahr el-Bared is 7 miles north of Tripoli near 
the stunning Mediterranean coast and is home to 
more than 32,000 refuges many of whom were 
expelled from the Lake Huleh area of Palestine, 
including Safed. Like all the official 
Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, plus 
several 'unofficial' ones, Nahr el-Bared suffers 
from serious problems including no proper 
infrastructure, overcrowding, poverty and unemployment.

Tabulated at more than 25%, Nahr el-Bared has the 
highest percentage of Palestinian refugees 
anywhere who are living in abject poverty and who 
are officially registered with the UN as "special hardship" cases.

Its residents, like all Palestinians in Lebanon 
are blatantly discriminated against and not even 
officially counted. They are denied citizenship 
and banned from working in the top 70 trades and 
professions (that includes McDonald's and KFC in 
downtown Beirut) and cannot own real estate. 
Palestinians in Lebanon have essentially no 
social or civil rights and only limited access to 
government educational facilities. They have no 
access to public social services. Consequently 
most rely entirely on the UNRWA as the sole provider for their families needs.

It is not surprising that al-Qaeda sympathies, if 
not formal affiliations, are found in the 12 
official camps as well as 7 unofficial ones. 
Groups with names such as Fateh al-Islam, Jund 
al-Shams (Soldier of Damascus) , Ibns al-Shaheed" 
(sons of the martyrs) Issbat al-Anssar which 
morphed into Issbat al-Noor - "The Community of Illumination" and many others.

Given Bush administration debacles in Iraq and 
Afghanistan and its encouragement for Israel to 
continue its destruction of Lebanon this past 
summer, the situation in Lebanon mirrors, in some 
respects, the early 1980's when groups sprung up 
to resist the US green lighted Israeli invasion 
and occupation. But rather than being Shia and 
pro-Hezbollah, today's groups are largely Sunni 
and anti-Hezbollah. Hence they qualify for US 
aid, funneled by Sunni financial backers in 
league with the Bush administration which is 
committed to funding Islamist Sunni groups to weaken Hezbollah.

This project has become the White House obsession 
following Israel's July 2006 defeat.

To understand what is going on with Fatah 
al-Islam at Nahr el-Bared one would want a brief 
introduction to Lebanon's amazing, but shadowy 'Welch Club'.

The Club is named for its godfather, David Welch, 
assistant to Secretary of State Rice who is the 
point man for the Bush administration and is guided by Eliot Abrams.
Key Lebanese members of the Welch Club (aka: the 'Club') include:

The Lebanese civil war veteran, warlord, 
feudalist and mercurial Walid Jumblatt of the 
Druze party( the Progressive Socialist Party or PSP)

Another civil war veteran, warlord, terrorist 
(Served 11 years in prison for massacres 
committed against fellow Christians among others) 
Samir Geagea. Leader of the extremist Phalange 
party and its Lebanese Forces (LF) the group that 
conducted the Israel organized massacre at 
Sabra-Shatilla (although led by Elie Hobeika, 
once Geagea's mentor, Geagea did not take part in 
the Sept. 1982 slaughter of 1,700 Palestinian and Lebanese).

The billionaire, Saudi Sheikh and Club president 
Saad Hariri leader of the Sunni Future Movement (FM).

Over a year ago Hariri's Future Movement started 
setting up Sunni Islamist terrorist cells (the 
PSP and LF already had their own militia since 
the civil war and despite the Taif Accords 
requiring militia to disarm they are now rearmed 
and itching for action and trying hard to provoke Hezbollah).

The FM created Sunni Islamist 'terrorist' cells 
were to serve as a cover for (anti-Hezbollah) 
Welch Club projects. The plan was that actions of 
these cells, of which Fatah el-Islam is one, 
could be blamed on al Qaeda or Syria or anyone but the Club.

To staff the new militias, FM rounded up remnants 
of previous extremists in the Palestinian Refugee 
camps that had been subdued, marginalized and 
diminished during the Syrian occupation of 
Lebanon. Each fighter got $700 per month, not bad in today's Lebanon.

The first Welch Club funded militia, set up by 
FM, is known locally as Jund-al-Sham (Soldiers of 
Sham, where "Sham" in Arabic denotes Syria, 
Lebanon, Palestine & Jordan) created in 
Ain-el-Hilwa Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon. 
This group is also referred to in the Camps as 
Jund-el-Sitt (Soldiers of the Sitt, where "Sitt" 
in Sidon, Ain-el-Hilwa and the outskirts pertain 
to Bahia Hariri, the sister of Rafiq Hariri, aunt 
of Saad, and Member of Parliament).

The second was Fateh-al-Islam (The name cleverly 
put together, joining Fateh as in Palestinian and 
the word Islam as in Qaeda). FM set this Club 
cell up in Nahr-al-Bared refugee camp north of 
Tripoli for geographical balance.

Fatah el-Islam had about 400 well paid fighters 
until three days ago. Today they may have more or 
fewer plus volunteers. The leaders were provided 
with ocean view luxury apartments in Tripoli 
where they stored arms and chilled when not in 
Nahr-al-Bared. Guess who owns the apartments?

According to members of both Fatah el-Islam and 
Jund-al-Sham their groups acted on the directive 
of the Club president, Saad Hariri.
So what went wrong? "Why the bank robbery" and the slaughter at Nahr el-Baled?

According to operatives of Fatah el-Islam, the 
Bush administration got cold feet with people 
like Seymour Hirsh snooping around and with the 
White House post-Iraq discipline in free fall. 
Moreover, Hezbollah intelligence knew all about 
the Clubs activities and was in a position to 
flip the two groups who were supposed to ignite a 
Sunni ­Shia civil war which Hezbollah vows to prevent.

Things started to go very wrong quickly for the Club last week.
FM "stopped" the payroll of Fateh el-Islam's 
account at the Hariri family owned back.

Fateh-al-Islam, tried to negotiate at least 
'severance pay' with no luck and they felt 
betrayed. (Remember many of their fighters are 
easily frustrated teenagers and their pay 
supports their families). Militia members knocked 
off the bank which issued their worthless checks. 
They were doubly angry when they learned FM is 
claiming in the media a loss much greater than 
they actually snatched and that the Club is going 
to stiff the insurance company and actually make a huge profit.

Lebanon's Internal Security Forces (newly 
recruited to serve the bidding of the Club and 
the Future Movement) assaulted the apartments of 
Fatah-al-Islam Tripoli. They didn't have much 
luck and were forced to call in the Lebanese army.

Within the hour, Fatah-al-Islam retaliated 
against Lebanese Army posts, checkpoints and 
unarmed, off-duty Lebanese soldiers in civilian 
clothing and committed outrageous killings including severing at four heads.

Up to this point Fatah-al-Islam did not retaliate 
against the Internal Security forces in Tripoli 
because the ISF is pro-Hariri and some are 
friends and Fatah al-Islam still hoped to get 
paid by Hariri. Instead Fatah al Islam went after the Army.

The Seniora cabinet convenes and asks the 
Lebanese Army to enter the refugee camp and 
silence (in more ways than one) Fatah-al-Islam. 
Since entrance into the Camps is forbidden by the 
1969 Arab league agreement, the Army refuses 
after realizing the extent of the conspiracy 
against it by the Welch Club. The army knows that 
entering a refugee camp in force will open a 
front against the Army in all twelve Palestinian 
refugee camps and tear the army apart along sectarian cracks.

The army feels set up by the Club's Internal 
Security Forces which did not coordinate with the 
Lebanese Army, as required by Lebanese law and 
did not even make them aware of the "inter family 
operation" the ISF carried out against Fatah-al-Islam safe houses in Tripoli.

Today, tensions are high between the Lebanese 
army and the Welch Club. Some mention the phrase 'army coup'.

The Club is trying to run Parliament and is 
prepared to go all the way not to 'lose' Lebanon. 
It still holds 70 seats in the house of 
parliament while the Hezbollah led opposition 
holds 58 seats. It has a dutiful PM in Fouad Siniora.

The club tried to seize control of the presidency 
and when it failed it marginalized it. Last year 
it tried to control of the Parliamentary 
Constitutional Committee, which audits the 
government's policies, laws and watch dogs their 
actions. When the Club failed to control it they 
simply abolished the Constitutional Committee. 
This key committee no longer exists in Lebanon's government.

The Welch Club's major error was when it 
attempted to influence the Lebanese Army into 
disarming the Lebanese Resistance led by 
Hezbollah. When the Army wisely refused, the Club 
coordinated with the Bush Administration to 
pressure Israel to dramatically intensify its 
retaliation to the capture of the two soldiers by 
Hezbollah and 'break the rules' regarding the 
historically more limited response and try to 
destroy Hezbollah during the July 2006 war.

The Welch Club now considers the Lebanese Army a 
serious problem. The Bush administration is 
trying to undermine and marginalize it to 
eliminate one of the last two obstacles to 
implementing Israel's agenda in Lebanon.

If the army is weakened, it can not protect _over 
70% of the Christians in Lebanon who support 
General Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement. The 
F.P.M. is mainly constituted of well educated, 
middle class and unarmed Lebanese civilians. The 
only protection they have is the Lebanese Army 
which aids in maintaining their presence in the 
political scene. The other type of Christians in 
Lebanon is the minority, about 15% of Christians 
associated with Geagea's Lebanese Forces who are 
purely militia. If the Club can weaken the Army 
even more than it is, then this Phalange minority 
will be the only relatively strong force on the 
Christian scene and become the "army" of the Club.

Another reason the Club wants to weaken the 
Lebanese Army is that the Army is nationalistic 
and is a safety valve for Lebanon to ensure the 
Palestinian right of return to Palestine, 
Lebanese nationhood and the resistance culture 
led by Hezbollah, with which is has excellent relations.

For their part, the Welch Club wants to keep some 
Palestinians in Lebanon for cheap labor, ship 
others to countries willing to take them (and be 
paid handsomely to do so by American taxpayers) 
and allow at most a few thousand to return to 
Palestine to settle the 'right of return' issue 
while at the same time signing a May 17th 1983 
type treaty with Israel with enriches the Club 
members and gives Israel Lebanon's water and much of Lebanon's sovereignty.

Long story short, Fatah el-Islam must be silenced 
at all costs. Their tale, if told, is poison for 
the Club and its sponsors. We will likely see 
their attempted destruction in the coming days.

Hezbollah is watching and supporting the Lebanese army.

Franklin Lamb's recent book, The Price We Pay: A 
Quarter Century of Israel's use of American 
Weapon's against Lebanon (1978-2006) is available 
at Amazon.com.uk. Hezbollah: A Brief Guide for 
Beginners is expected in early summer.

Dr. Lamb can be reached at <mailto:fplamb at gmail.com>fplamb at gmail.com.




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