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Ein al-Hilweh and the reality of the fragmented Palestinians

2023-09-18 08:08

Issam Khoury

Hezbollah, #PalestinianFactions, #LebanonCamps, #Fatah, #Hamas, #IslamicGroups, #InternalConflict, #ExternalInfluence, #AinAlHilweh, #IranInfluence,

Ein al-Hilweh and the reality of the fragmented Palestinians

"Palestinian factions show discord in Lebanon's camps, reflecting varied loyalties and external influences, creating tensions and potential instability."

The Palestinian divisions between Fatah and Hamas within the Palestinian territories reflect the reality experienced by Palestinians in all Palestinian diaspora countries. In late June/July 2023, armed clashes erupted in the Ein al-Hilweh camp in Lebanon, resulting in the death of 13 Palestinians and the injury of dozens. This incident brought back to the minds of the Lebanese the issue of loose weapons and confirmed the existence of a Sunni armed force that could play a military role in the event of a Sunni-Shia conflict in Lebanon. These events coincided with several embassies urging their citizens to leave Lebanon.


The reality of Palestinians in Lebanon According to the statistics of UNRWA in 2017, there are 174,422 Palestinians living in Lebanon. They are distributed in the following camps[1]:


  • Beddawi Camp
  • Burj Barajneh Camp
  • Burj Shemali Camp
  • Dbayeh Camp
  • Ein El Hilweh Camp
  • El Buss Camp
  • Mar Elias Camp
  • Mieh Mieh Camp
  • Nahr el-Bared Camp
  • Rashidieh Camp
  • Shatila Camp
  • Wavel Camp


Despite the presence of 12 densely populated Palestinian camps in Lebanon, Palestinians in Lebanon are deprived of constitutional rights. Palestinians are prohibited from obtaining work permits, studying in public Lebanese schools, or even accessing government-guaranteed healthcare. Palestinians are also not allowed to leave Lebanese territories without informing the Lebanese General Security about the reason and duration of their travel.


All these obstructive measures aim to prevent the settlement of Palestinians in Lebanon and encourage them to leave this small country burdened with sectarian tensions.


In reality, Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Additional Protocol[2], which allows the Lebanese government to evade granting any privileges to Palestinian refugees. However, the Lebanese government did agree to the 1965 Casablanca Protocol[3] outlined by the Arab League and signed some of its provisions in 1966, allowing Palestinians to maneuver legally to secure some facilitations for their livelihood in Lebanon.



Ain al-Hilweh camp


Ain al-Hilweh camp is considered the largest Palestinian refugee camp, with an area of approximately 2 square kilometers and a population exceeding sixty thousand individuals. The camp is divided into several neighborhoods, varying in their political and military loyalties. 


  • The neighborhoods of "As-Sikka," "At-Tawari," "Al-Manshiyya," "As-Safsaf," "Hittin," and "Arab Zubeid" are predominantly supportive of Islamic groups. 
  • On the other hand, Fatah movement controls the neighborhoods of "Bustan al-Quds," "Al-Burjaksat," "Taytaba," "Jabal al-Halib," and "At-Tayyara."


Inside the neighborhoods dominated by Islamic forces, there are some families loyal to Fatah. However, they avoid confrontation or openly expressing their support to avoid social rejection from the other residents of the neighborhood. For example, until 2017, the "At-Tayyara" neighborhood, or as some call it "At-Tayri," was loyal to the Islamic movement. With the rise of opposition to radical extremist fundamentalism and the counter-terrorism project, the Islamic group divided itself into an extremist faction and a less extremist one. As a result, Fatah, in cooperation with its dormant elements in this neighborhood, managed to overthrow the military leadership there, and the neighborhood became supportive of Fatah.


We also see some neighborhoods divided in loyalty. For example, the neighborhood of "Safuriyya" is divided between the Hamas movement and the Reformist current that split from Fatah, led by Mahmoud Issa, nicknamed "Al-Lino". 


From here, we realize that Fatah is not unified in identity and goal, and the reason for that is the clear disagreements between the leader Mohammed Dahlan and the old guard in Fatah represented by Mahmoud Abbas.


Administratively, a security force was formed in which several factions participated to coordinate the relationship between the Lebanese army and the Palestinians, and it was called "the Joint Palestinian Security Force". However, this force is unable to extend its influence over all Islamic Palestinian factions, especially the extremist ones, which leads to repeated conflicts within the camp. This caused the Lebanese army to establish military checkpoints at the entrances of this camp, and the most prominent of these checkpoints are:


  • Hajsba checkpoint
  • Hajar Al-Tahatani checkpoint
  • Hajar Al-Fouqani checkpoint
  • Hajar Al-Baraksat checkpoint
  • Hajar Taytaba checkpoint
  • Hajar Al-Naba'a checkpoint
  • Hajar Jarrab Al-Sim checkpoint


The Islamic group inside Ain al-Hilweh camp is divided into several political currents, and all these currents have military and political wings. The most prominent Islamic forces are:


Hamas Movement 


It is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. This movement views all Islamic organizations, including Shia ones, as products of its ideological thinking. This movement is characterized by having two factions:


  1. Political: Actively led by Khaled Mashal, who is based in Qatar.
  2. Military: Led by the leader Salah al-Arouri[4], who resides in the southern suburbs of Lebanon and is known for his strong ties with the Lebanese Hezbollah organization.


This movement presents itself as an Islamic alternative to the Fatah movement and justifies its armament for the purpose of defending Palestinians against Israel. Additionally, this movement seeks to expand its popular base in Lebanese refugee camps and in the West Bank, to become the most influential Palestinian force. This would enhance its negotiating position with Israel to obtain a long-term ceasefire, ensuring absolute control over the Gaza Strip, followed by the West Bank areas.


Ansar Group[5]

It is a Salafi movement, not concerned with the Islamic nation project adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood. It focuses on the unity of Palestinians within a legitimate Islamic project inside Palestine. Therefore, this organization avoided engaging in battles with Islamic factions within the Ain al-Hilweh camp. 


It is led by leader Ibrahim al-Sa'di[6], the son of leader Ahmad Abdul Karim al-Sa'di, who is wanted by the Lebanese security for his involvement in the assassination of Sheikh Nazar al-Halabi, the head of the Islamic Projects Association, in 1996, and the four judges in Sidon in 1999. This organization was closely associated with Al-Qaeda, but during Ibrahim's reign, it transformed into an organization capable of bridging between Palestinian extremists and Fatah movement. 


Ibrahim al-Sa'di was arrested in Syrian prisons for five years on charges of organizing operations to assist Al-Qaeda. He was released in 2012 and has since settled in the Ain al-Hilweh camp. He benefited from his father's popularity within Salafi circles and became one of the prominent Palestinian Salafi leaders.


Islamic Jihad Movement 


This movement began its call as an armed group, believing in the necessity of launching armed attacks against Israel to protect Palestinians. It soon transformed into a social and advocacy movement aimed at bridging the divisions among different factions of the Palestinian society in Lebanese refugee camps. One of the prominent leaders of this organization is "Jamal Khattab[7]" who is a preacher and the imam of Al-Nur Mosque in Ain al-Hilweh camp.


Khattab, along with other activists of his movement, seeks to unite the Palestinian ranks and keep Palestinian extremists away from the media spotlight, thus contributing to improving the image of Palestinian Muslims in the eyes of the Lebanese public, who oppose their presence.


Islamic Jihad Movement[8]:


This movement began its activities within a completely similar approach to the Muslim Brotherhood, but the Iranian side was able to exploit this movement to become an advanced weapon for Tehran within Israel and in the Palestinian refugee camps. To the extent that the field leaders of this movement in the Ein al-Hilweh camp do not have the authority to lead the movement within the camp, but they are committed to the instructions of the leader Ziyad Rashdi al-Nakhalah[9],  residing in Damascus. Al-Nakhalah has been listed on the US terrorism lists since 2014.


The Islamic Jihad Movement distinguishes itself by its members' distance from drug trafficking, arms trade, and sex trade, which are engaged in by most active factions in political Islamic movements. Therefore, many leaders in this movement are very committed to Islamic Sharia law, allowing them to recruit a large portion of the religious Palestinian groups.


Muslim Youth Movement 


Currently led by Salafi leader "Haitham Shaabi".


The Muslim Youth Movement is classified as a radical Salafi organization that emerged from the merger of three groups from the political Islam movements, namely:


  • Fatah al-Islam Group

The remnants of the Fatah al-Islam organization after their escape from the Nahr al-Bared camp.


  • Jund al-Sham Group

An extremely extremist group led by the leader "Osama Shihabi[10]", who is also the leader of "Fatah al-Islam" in Lebanon, succeeding the former leader of the organization, Abdul Rahman Awad[11].


  • Bilal Badr Group

An extremist group of radical extremists led by the leader "Bilal Badr". The number of members of this group does not exceed forty, but they have received high-level training in the Syrian Zabadani areas by elements from Hezbollah.


The three organizations are linked to the military intelligence branch in Damascus. During the American occupation of Iraq, many of them were transferred to Iraq to assist in the formation of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. After the completion of Iraq, they played a disruptive role in the Nahr al-Bared camp, increasing Hezbollah's influence in Lebanon at the expense of the Lebanese Army, which was unable to confront Fatah al-Islam alone.


The three organizations caused military clashes against Fatah movement in 2017, which led to Fatah expelling them from the "Al-Tireh" neighborhood. This group was not eliminated due to the intervention of leader "Jamal Suleiman" to secure a safe exit for them at that time. Hence, we realize that the Muslim Youth Movement is an advanced front for the "Ansar Allah" group inside Ain al-Hilweh camp.


The group "Ansar Allah" 


This group was founded by the leader Jamal Suleiman[12], and Suleiman is known as a leader who defected from the Fatah movement. He was supported by the Syrians during the Syrian guardianship over Lebanon. With the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, he sought to organize several radical extremist youths to form his armed organization, which participated in many battles with the Syrian army. Jamal Suleiman is known for his strong relationship with Hezbollah, to the extent that we imagine him as Iran's first man in Ain al-Hilweh camp.


The fighters of "Ansar Allah" number approximately ninety individuals and have a good presence in the Jabal al-Hilweh area in Ain al-Hilweh camp. However, their main base is in the "Mieh Mieh" camp. Sheikh Maher Hamoud[13], the Secretary-General of the Union of Resistance Scholars, who is close to Tehran and Hezbollah, is one of the closest figures to Jamal Suleiman.



The reality of Islamic groups in the Ain al-Hilweh camp creates a constant state of disturbance in the Palestinian fabric, especially with the clear interventions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the hidden role of Hezbollah. The Iranian leadership seeks to undermine the Fatah movement by targeting influential leaders in the camps, such as Abu Ashraf al-Armoushi[14]. In fact, if this strategy continues, it will make the political Islamist movements better off than Fatah.


This will certainly serve both Hamas and Islamic Jihad because they are the two most organized movements among the political Islamist movements. This will mean a higher dominance for Iran in the vicinity of Israel, if not within Israeli territory.







[1] UNRWA, July 2023, https://www.unrwa.org/where-we-work/lebanon/ein-el-hilweh-camp


[2] The 1951 Refugee Convention, UNHCR, View and download the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol



[3] The Council of the Arab League Adopts the Casablanca Protocol on the Treatment of Palestinians in the Arab States, 11 SEPTEMBER 1965, HTTPS://WWW.PALQUEST.ORG/EN/OVERALLCHRONOLOGY?SIDEID=24404


[4] A member of Hamas since 1987, he led the Islamic student movement and helped establish Hamas’s military wing in the West Bank. He has been repeatedly detained by Israel, for long periods between 1985-1992, and 1992-2007. In 2010 he was deported by Israel to Syria where he lived for three years before moving to Turkey, He is currently based in Lebanon.



[5] Asbat al-Ansar, the League of the Followers or Partisans' League, is a Lebanon-based Sunni extremist group composed primarily of Palestinians with links to Usama bin Ladin's al-Qaida organization and other Sunni extremist groups. 
Investigative project, Chapter 8; Foreign Terrorist Organizations," Country Reports on Terrorism 2005, US Department of State, April 30, 2006



[6] Ibrahim al-Sa'di is son Ahmad Abd al-Karim al-Sa'di “Ahmad Abd al-Karim al-Sa'di a.k.a. Abu Muhjin, remains at large despite being sentenced to death in absentia for the 1994 murder of a Muslim cleric”


[7] https://www.facebook.com/jamalkhatab11/


[8] The Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is a Sunni Islamist militant group seeking to establish an Islamist Palestinian state that is committed to the destruction of Israel. It is the second-largest militant group in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, founded in 1979 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The group has drawn inspiration from the Iranian revolution and receives support from Iran, Syria, and Lebanese Hizballah. PIJ’s military wing, al-Quds Brigades, has been responsible for many attacks on Israeli targets since the 1990s.


[9] Ziyad al-Nakhalah, The US Department of State designated PIJ as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997 and designated PIJ’s Secretary General Ziyad al-Nakhalah as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in 2014.



[10] أسامة الشهابي زعيم "فتح الإسلام" وأخطر الإرهابيين المطلوبين في العالم/ بوابة الحركات الإسلامية، بقلم: فاطمة عبد الغني، 21 July 2019


[11] عبد الرحمن عوض/ الجزيرة/ فبراير/شباط 2012


[12] جمال سليمان من عضوية «فتح» إلى الارتباط المالي والعسكري بـ«حزب الله»/ جريدة الشرق الأوسط، ٢٣ نوفمبر/ شباط ٢٠١٨


[13] رئيس الإتحاد العالمي لعلماء المقاومة الشيخ ماهر حمود/ الخنادق/ نيسان 2023


[14] شاهد: تشييع جثمان القيادي في حركة فتح الذي قتل في مواجهات مخيم عين الحلوة في لبنان/ يورونيوز/ 31 July 2023


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