Falluja Forum contributor Abu al-Ghadiyah recently posted an article titled “Transformations of ‘Usbat al-Ansar” that the Lebanese paper al-Akhbar published in March. The article was part of a larger series of reports that journalist Hasan ‘Aliq wrote regarding the political and security climate in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp Ain al-Hilweh. He argues that the Islamist position is growing stronger in the camp due to changes in their attitudes towards the Lebanese state. However, Fatah attempts to check the Islamists’ growing influence have resulted in bloodshed and instability.
In “Transformations of ‘Usbat al-Ansar,” ‘Aliq claims that since 2003 ‘Usbat al-Ansar, a Palestinian militant organization that espouses takfiri ideology and allegedly sends fighters to Iraq, has recently undergone three major transformations. The first is the surrendering of Badi’ Hamadah, aka Abu ‘Ubaydah, to the Lebanese Army. According to the article, this move negatively impacted the organization’s relations with and support from al-Qaeda and “a number of religious men, especially in Saudi.”
The second “transformation” is the movement of ‘Usbat al-Ansar militants from Lebanon to Iraq. The organization claims that 20 of its members were killed in Iraq while engaging “occupation forces.” Additionally, it alleges that its members never participated in the sectarian violence that plagued Iraq. The article also maintains that Syria arrested ‘Usbat al-Ansar’s leader Abu Muhjin while he was in transit to Iraq. The article reports that ‘Usbat al-Ansar denies rumors that it is negotiating with Syria to release Muhjin for two fugitives hiding in Ain al-Hilweh. However, a second article by ‘Aliq states that Abu Muhjin left for Iraq in 2003 and has since returned to Ain al-Hilweh, according to an unnamed “Palestinian official.” Thus, it appears that Abu Muhjin’s whereabouts and status remain hazy.
The third “transformation” is a change in ‘Usbat al-Ansar’s behavior towards the Lebanese government. The article claims that the group once saw the Lebanese state as an enemy, but it now has an open communication line with Lebanese intelligence officials and helps maintain some stability in the camp. According to the report, the organization states that it will not partake in any Lebanese sectarian violence, but it did offer help to Hezbollah during the 2006 war with Israel.
‘Usbat al-Ansar’s actions are a positive step in building security in Lebanon. During the 2007 siege against Fatah al-Islam, ‘Usbat al-Ansar refrained from opening the so-called “second front” against the Lebanese Army and prevented its sister organization, Jund al-Sham, from doing so as well, a move that the Lebanese army was undoubtedly thankful for. However, not everything is on the up and up in Ain al-Hilweh.
According to a third report by ‘Aliq titled “Abu al-‘Abd the Palestinian: I Will not Forgive,” elements within Fatah are attempting to prevent the Islamists growing influence in Ain al-Hilweh. This article claims that Muhammad ‘Isa, aka al-Linu or Abu al-‘Abd, is a prominent Fatah military leader, who dislikes Islamists because he is allegedly is a member of the al-Habashiyah Sufi sect, which Salafi Islamists are hostile towards. He also reportedly has a desire to “return lost pride” to Fatah after its setbacks to Hamas in Gaza.
The article maintains that al-‘Abd “started a series of purifications” that have pitted Fatah against Jund al-Sham and have killed several people including Shehada Jawhar, a self proclaimed al-Qaeda trainer in Iraq and weapons smuggler in Lebanon. The article also states that al-‘Abd has been implicated in several explosions that have recently rocked Ain al-Hilweh and that he has rankled Fatah’s Lebanese leadership because he has supposedly found outside funding.
Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees remain a contentious issue. They appear to be heavily armed and well trained since many of them have fought in Iraq. Currently, the Palestinians are fragmented and suffer internal strife due to the strengthening of the Islamist position. The Islamists enjoy this position and are not keen to squander it by provoking another Nahr al-Bared. However, the internecine fighting will likely keep Ain al-Hilweh a dangerous place and the Lebanese Army on its toes.