Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps have long been beyond the control of the Lebanese state, with various Palestinian factions in charge of security. But it seems that will no longer be the case at Nahr al-Bared. The government has tried to reassure critics who say the recent conflict is the first step towards destroying the camps. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has insisted that the state is committed to rebuilding Nahr al-Bared, but he says it is now under the authority of Beirut.
There are many camps up and down the country, full of those who fled or were forced from their land when Israel was created in 1948. Out of a total of 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, some 220,000 are living in the camps. The Nahr al-Bared refugees have made it clear what they want now the fighting seems to be over. “We are going to rebuild our homes and go back to work,” said one man.
Observers say it has been the law of the jungle in Nahr al-Bared and other camps ever since Palestine Liberation Organisation fighters were driven out by Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
There are different theories about where Fatah al-Islam comes from. Some claim it is linked to Al Qaida, others are not so sure. It is widely reported to be a breakaway group of a Syrian-backed militia. Some Lebanese officials claim Syria supported the group to try to destabilise Beirut’s western-backed government, claims denied by Damascus.
Pro-Syrian opposition groups accuse the Lebanese government’s own allies of having initially financed the extremist Sunni Muslim group. This to counter the influence of the Shi’ite Muslim movement Hezbollah.