Syrian Spillover Triggers Violence Between Assad Supporters, Opponents in Lebanon’s Palestinian Refugee Camps

Much of the spillover from the Syrian conflict has been in the form of hardening sectarian tensions, with countries such as Lebanon and Iraq splitting along Sunni and Shiite lines. The brute strain of managing refugees, meanwhile, has destabilized countries such as Jordan and to a lesser extent Turkey. Inside Palestinian refugee camps, however, the divisions have been based on simple loyalty or opposition to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.

Reports began to emerge last fall that rebels pursuing the regime’s overthrow were seeking to arm a growing number of sympathizers inside the Yarmouk camp in Damascus. The approximately 150,000 people living in the camp had long been aligned with the Syrian regime, and many have fought alongside government forces during the first 18 months of the war.

This week Voice of America reported that similar divisions were emerging in Lebanese refugee camps. While putting on a brave face, the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas factions that run the camps – which are by agreement no-go areas for the Lebanese army – are struggling to manage the tensions:

Jihadists and militant Sunni Islamists are upsetting the balance of power in the dozen refugee camps in Lebanon housing 400,000 Palestinians… Palestinian leaders say they are striving to prevent violence breaking out between armed factions inside the dozen Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

Abu Ahmad Fadel Taha, the political representative for Hamas in Ain Helweh, the largest of the camps set up for Palestinian refugees who fled the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, says tensions are running high. A deal to keep the peace isn’t always observed. “There are always meetings between all the nationalist and Islamist groups in the camp. There is an agreement, at least an agreement but you know sometimes some things get out of line and cannot be controlled,” he said.

Last month radical Islamists in Ain Helweh gunned down a member of the Fatah movement of the PLO, according to an official statement from the Lebanese army.

[Photo: SyriaArchive2013 / YouTube]