Palestinian Militant Group Spreads Through Bekaa Valley

As the Syrian crisis intensifies, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine looks to move out of Damascus and expand its bases in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, Mohammad Harfoush reports. 

al-monitor Palestinian gunmen try to calm angry protesters near the port-city of Sidon, in south Lebanon, June 19, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Ali Hashisho.

Dec 21, 2012

Following the mobilization of its personnel and organizational confusion, an air of extreme caution prevails at the bases of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC) in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. This comes after the formation of the so-called PFLP–Free Command, which is alleged to have split away from the PFLP-GC, a group that is headed by Syria-allied Ahmed Jibril. This splinter group is said to control PFLP bases in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, which contains about 150,000 Palestinian refugees.

There is great uncertainty regarding the splinter group’s internal dynamics and who among them will become its leader and religious authority. Lebanese fear that the clashes and splits in Yarmouk will spread, causing security issues beyond the geographical range of those bases in the Central and Western Bekaa. This is especially the case in the towns of Qusaya, ‘Ayn El Bayda, Deir El Zanun, Wadi Hashmash, Lucy, Sultan Yacoub, Faour, Kfar Zabad Heights in Zahle, Mount Maaysra and Jabeila.

According to security reports, the total number of personnel at these bases is estimated to be around 475. In addition, around 350 PFLP personnel have spread into the Naameh underground tunnels, complete with combat gear.

But the PFLP’s most prominent bases remain spread across the Kfar Zabad Heights, and contain armored vehicles, missile batteries and long-range artillery. The security reports highlight that these bases are distinguished by their efficient command structure, which enables fighters to hold key roadways in the Bekaa, such as the Masnaa-Chtaura road, the Chtaura-Zahle road and the Bar Elias-West Bekaa road. Moreover, the city of Zahle and most of the towns in the central Bekaa Valley are within range of General Command artillery.

The reports stated that the bases in ‘Ayn El Bayda, in the east of Barelias, and in Sultan Yacoub contain arsenals of heavy weaponry which rival those in Kfar Zabad. However these two locations lack the strategic significance of the Kfar Zabad bases. According to the reports, the main purpose of these two bases is not to provide military protection for Kfar Zabad, but to absorb the hundreds of fighters flowing across the Lebanese-Syrian border and then to distribute them where they can be most useful in advancing the security of the Syrian regime.

The reports touched on the new tunnel system, which reaches deep into Syrian territory, allowing the fighters to bypass official Lebanese border crossings.

As for the cloud of uncertainty surrounding the fate of these bases, there are indications of efforts to prevent what happened in the Yarmouk refugee camp from occurring again.

It is rumored that Talal Naji, one of the General Command leaders least involved in Syrian affairs and known for his moderation compared to Jibril, seeks to promote this option in coordination with various Palestinian factions, and at the same time secure another refuge outside of Damascus.

Reports suggest that PFLP-GC bases in the Bekaa are being closely monitored by Lebanese leaders. There are some who say that the schism within the PFLP-GC’s leadership may aid the Lebanese state in resolving the issue of armed Palestinian militias roaming outside the boundaries of the refugee camps, especially considering the unanimous decision in 2006 to disarm these groups.

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