Hamas Fears Renewed Violence In Lebanon’s Refugee Camps

Hamas is keeping its presence in Lebanon neutral, while Hezbollah’s involvement in Qusair has heightened concerns of a new war breaking out in Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps.

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palestinian, hezbollah, hamas, amal movement

Jun 14, 2013

The tension between Hezbollah and Hamas is palpable. The Syrian crisis has shaken the pillars of their strategic alliance, without completely demolishing them. Yet, Palestine is still their compass, and so is the resistance project against Israel — even if both parties have their own terms and considerations.

While the two leaderships make sure to maintain contact, their disputes rarely go public. However, the rumors that spread from time to time merely show the tip of the iceberg in regard to the rift between both parties. The latest rumors spoke of the Hamas leadership leaving Beirut’s southern suburbs [the stronghold of Hezbollah], or, more accurately, being thrown out. Additionally, Hamas was accused of taking part in the battles of Qusair through providing weapons and training. In this sense, Hamas was held accountable for the human losses of Hezbollah in Qusair.

According to Hamas, the relationship with Hezbollah is dogmatic and is first and foremost related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Hamas affirms that the disparity in viewing the Syrian crisis has contributed in adding tension to the political relationship between both parties; yet, it did not affect their joint coordination in the majority of causes, especially that of fending off sectarian strife.

Hezbollah, on the other hand, is concerned about clearing the view of Hamas. It wishes to clarify that the party was not involved in [spreading] rumors pertaining to the engagement of Hamas in clashes with Hezbollah in Qusair and the expulsion of Hamas from Beirut’s southern suburbs.

Hamas does not deny being subject to harassment in the city’s southern suburbs, although it notes that this harassment was limited to personal actions. There is no doubt that the offices of Hamas in Beirut’s southern suburbs — namely the office of Hamas’ representative in Lebanon, the office of foreign relations and the organizational officials who are concerned with coordinating relationships — still have their doors open. Despite this, Hamas fears that these rumors could be similar to those that preceded its departure from Damascus, which soon became true.   

The Hamas movement in Lebanon has reduced its involvement in the Syrian crisis to dealing with the issue of displaced Palestinians, amounting to 57,000, who fled the Yarmouk camp in Damascus, Sabina in southern Damascus, and the Daraa and Jindarat refugee camps in Aleppo.

Hamas knows that the fierce mobilization against it makes the issue of displaced Palestinians beside the point. The Syrian crisis is the only factor that orients the disputes. Even when Hamas affirms its non-involvement in the Syrian crisis, it does not deny that 20,000 individuals affiliated with the movement turned out to be engaged in the battles of Qusair. On the other hand, Hamas highlights the fact that these individuals — including Bahaa Sakr, a former bodyguard of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal — are not part of the organizational body of the movement. They were staff members or supporters who remained in Syria when the organizational body, encompassing 1,000 individuals, left Damascus.

Hamas sources stress that those who took part in the battles of Qusair do not represent the movement, whose stance is stark. Hamas “supported the Syrian revolution but refused to be involved in it. Hamas also refuses to take sides with any party.”

Hamas notes: How could the party fight in Syria, while it has never fought Israel but from the inside? This is the same response Hamas gave to whoever asked the movement to open the Golan front.

Yasser Ali, a member of Hamas’ political leadership in Lebanon, calls to mind that Hamas did not, in any form, call for the overthrow of the regime. Ali told As-Safir, “We are still for a peaceful political solution that fulfills the aspirations of the Syrian people for freedom, democracy and social equity.” Ali affirms that the movement is vehemently against any foreign intervention in Syria.

When the battles of Qusair ended, and in an attempt to contain its repercussions on the Palestinian scene, Hezbollah and Hamas held a preliminary meeting in which both parties discussed their joint relationship and the security situation in the camps. This meeting is said to open the doors for other meetings high up.

As part of building a balanced relationship with all Lebanese constituents, Hamas has been, for a while, consolidating its relationship with the Amal movement and fully coordinating with it. Members of Hamas even went to great lengths affirming that their relationship with Amal is politically stronger than that with Hezbollah, though not as deep-rooted.

In addition to the issue of displaced Palestinians, what concerns Hamas most is the situation in Palestinian camps. The movement admits that with the emergence of the crisis in Syria, an opposing atmosphere to Hezbollah has come into play and its repercussions can still be felt now. In this regard, Hamas is striving to contain the situation.

Hamas believes that having good relationships with the components of areas surrounding the camps is essential. Therefore, Hamas “has striven to ensure the security of its people and community, making sure to stop any move against Hezbollah.”

Some observers point to attempts to burn the food aid Hezbollah offered to the Ein el-Hilweh camp in the wake of the Syrian crisis as evidence of the difficulty of the task.

A Hamas source does not hide his very real concern that a new camp war [could break out]: “The movement fears sectarian strife in Lebanon and works hard with Hezbollah to thwart it.” As he warns of such a war, the source affirms that if it happened, “Blood is thicker than water; Hamas would defend its people.”

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