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Tensions soar in Ain al-Hilweh over Fatah founding celebrations.

Summary: As the anniversary of the founding of the Fatah Movement approaches, tensions are soaring in the southern refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh between old allies who've become rivals.

SIDON, Lebanon: As the anniversary of the founding of the Fatah Movement approaches, tensions are soaring in the southern refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh between old allies who've become rivals. The relationship between Fatah and former leader of the Palestinian Armed Struggle (PAS) Brig. Gen. Mahmoud Abdel Hamid Issa, better known by his nom de guerre "Lino," has been deteriorating since the latter was dismissed over remarks made about the movement. The PAS acted as Fatah's police force in the camp before it was dissolved.

Tensions were renewed recently when the disgraced Lino said that in an effort to demonstrate he was still a "son of the movement" he was going to hold his own military show in Ain al-Hilweh Wednesday to mark the group's founding, at the same time as the Fatah Movement.

The movement had called on supporters to participate in the celebration to be held in several refugee camps, including Ain al-Hilweh, Wednesday afternoon.

Lino is said to be loyal to former top Fatah official in Gaza Mohammad Dahlan, who was also expelled from the party over graft charges.

Dahlan was referred to trial by Fatah, and the first session was held last week in Ramallah's corruption court. It is believed that Dahlan will be convicted after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stripped him of immunity.

Dahlan is a longtime rival of Abbas, whose supporters accused him of orchestrating Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's murder. Sources also said Abbas was planning to expel a number of Fatah members including those present in Lebanon's refugee camps.

Last year the Fatah Movement arrested Lino, after a group affiliated with him made claims of corruption within the Palestinian party. Fatah sources said a number of Palestinian officials remain in contact with him.

The accusations were denied by Lino, who insisted he was a son of Fatah Movement.

The Fatah Movement, considered the largest faction within the Palestinian Liberation Organization, was established on Jan. 1, 1965.

The Daily Star was informed that in the past 24 hours calls were made between Lino and the Fatah Movement aimed at finding a solution. A meeting followed which was attended by Fatah's head of national security Maj. Gen. Sobhi Abu Arab and Financial Officer Mounther Hamza and held in a coffee shop.

In the meeting the Fatah delegation expressed hope that Lino would not work to bring Dahlan's fight into the Palestinian camps of Lebanon.

Those following up on the meeting told The Daily Star that although Lino didn't back down from his position to hold his own celebration, he agreed to hold it an hour after Fatah's official event Wednesday.

For vegetable seller Ahmad Mustafa, Lino's decision to hold his own event despite his fall from Fatah's graces was a confusing and potentially destabilizing move. Indeed, it has caused much distress among Ain al-Hilweh's residents.

"What does Lino want?" Mustafa asked. "Does he want blood? Let him leave the camp, enough killing, enough displacement."

He added that if Lino wanted to fight Israel then he had his support, but not otherwise.

The security situation in Ain al-Hilweh is fragile, but things improved incrementally over the summer after a 150-member strong elite force was created to maintain security in the camp. The force is comprised of members from the camp's various factions.

The force has managed to maintain security after a number of incidents threatened to undermine stability in Lebanon's largest refugee camp, which is home to some extremist elements.

Despite some setbacks, the camp managed to remain neutral in August when the Lebanese Army clashed with Islamist militants in Arsal, and again in October, when another round of fighting erupted in Tripoli.

Lebanese authorities have been communicating with the camp's various factions and have informed them that security breaches in the camp would not be tolerated.

The authorities explained to the factions that the situation in Lebanon could no longer bear any security incidents, as military efforts were focused in Arsal and Tripolito suppress Islamist extremists.

Lebanon's security forces will not allow any clashes to occur inside the camp, fearing that this would give Islamist extremists based in the camp an opportunity to gain momentum and seek revenge against Lino, who fought against them.

While at the helm of PAS some thee years ago, Lino engaged in clashes and assassination attempts against the Islamist group Jund al-Sham, which has a support base in Ain al-Hilweh.

Lebanese authorities say Lino has money and weapons, secured with the help of Dahlan's wife. However, sources in the camp denied that Dahlan's wife was backing Lino financially, saying she only provided funds for social projects in the camp.

Currently residing in the camp's Sfouri neighborhood, Lino said that he had been the target of a number of assassination attempts.

However, Fatah sources said his claims were false.

Lino, who has met with fighters previously under his command, has been quoted as saying, "I am the child of Fatah and they issued a decision to fire me, but this doesn't concern me and of course it doesn't concern you."

"I will hold the torch and celebrate this anniversary when Yasser Arafat was the first to fire a bullet against the Israeli occupier," one source quoted the former Fatah figure as saying.

But official sources within the Fatah Movement said that they refused to acknowledge Lino's persistent claim to leadership.

One source added that in addition to removing Lino from his position, the armed men working under him had been withdrawn.

Yet, the source claimed, the former official still insisted on creating strife, as commanded by Dahlan.

The source was adamant that Fatah members would not be dragged into confrontations with Lino because they "don't want to waste the efforts put into maintaining stability in the camp."

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Dec 30, 2014
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