Who's Behind the Fighting in
Inside Narh al-Bared and Bedawi Refugee Camps
By Franklin Lamb
-- --- 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
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 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 ceasefire 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')
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
So what went wrong? "Why the bank robbery" and the slaughter at
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
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
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
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 fplamb @ gmail.com.
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