Nahr Al-Bared is the Palestinian refugee camp rocked by months of fighting since May, when the Lebanese Army went after members of the Fatah Al-Islam splinter group. This fighting took place just under a year after the ferocious two-month Israeli attack (June-August 2006) that targetted much of Lebanon’s infrastructure, not only in the south of the country, following Hizbollah’s attack on a group of Israeli soldiers in the Shebaa Farms area that Hizbollah says belongs to Lebanon. Hizbollah is still holding two of these soldiers captive, without any visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). After the active conflict ended (though Israeli overflights are, however, reportedly continuing — Israel says they are needed to monitor Hizbollah’s rearming), there were a number of internal attacks, including bank robberies and bus bombings, that the Lebanese government accuses Fatah Al-Islam of committing.
A number of Palestinian officials and Fatah leaders in Lebanon also denounced Fatah Al-Islam. The situation in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon was said to be explosive — many of the refugees crowded inside have not been given Lebanese documentation, and they are not allowed to work in many professions, and construction materials to improve their housing is not allowed inside the camps.
During the Lebanese Army attack, many Palestinians from Nahr Al-Bared were evacuated to other already crowded refugee camps in Lebanon.
Given a chance to return recently, a number of the Nahr Al-Bared evacuees did just that — despite the danger of unexploded ordinance throughout the camp, and reports that their homes were surely damaged if not destroyed.
But, according to this account, what they found was much worse that what they had been told — and even what they had imagined:
“Between May and September of this year, a ferocious battle took place between the Lebanese Army and a small armed group known as Fatah Al Islam. From the first the day, the Lebanese Army surrounded the camp and fired in artillery, maintaining this course for months. Most of the residents of the camp were forced to leave with the clothes on their backs within the first three days. As the number of young Lebanese soldiers killed and horribly maimed rose through the battle, Lebanon became awash with patriotism and grief, any questioning of the army taboo.
“Something terrible has been done to the residents of Nahr al Bared, and the Lebanese people are being spared the details. Over the past two weeks, since the camp was partly reopened to a few of its residents, many of us who have been there have been stunned by a powerful reality. Beyond the massive destruction of the homes from three months of bombing, room after room, house after house have been burned. Burned from the inside. Amongst the ashes on the ground, are the insides of what appear to have been car tyres. The walls have soot dripping down from what seems clearly to have been something flammable sprayed on them. Rooms, houses, shops, garages – all blackened ruins, yet having had no damage from bombing or battle. They were burned deliberately by people entering and torching them.
“How many we do not know, it is too large for a few people to comprehensively assess. But finding an un-bombed house or a business that has not been torched is very hard indeed.Why did this happen? Why have the people whose entire life’s work is to be found in ashes on the floor of these burned out homes, not been given any information about this – not a word? Each day new people return to find that this is what has happened to their homes.
“It is not just the burning of houses. Cars that residents were ordered to leave behind in the first days of the battle have been smashed up. Mopeds and TVs and all that ordinary people value, also broken up. Fridge after fridge with bullets through them. All of this clearly done from inside the houses, not from any outside battle.
“People returning to their homes sit outside alone on the ground. Stunned. When you ask them to bring you into their houses, they tell you, person after person, of how their valuables were stolen. Even where the valuables were well hidden, everything was ransacked and valuables found. Explosives were used to get through locked doors or to open safes. Items that people have had stolen include everything from clothes to cars. That which has not been burned, which was not smashed, which was of value seems to have vanished …
“On the inside walls of many, many houses, are written slogans. Everything from proud soldiers noting army units, to profoundly racist, offensive slogans against Palestinian people. Many families have found some of their belongings in nearby houses. Faeces are on some mattresses and floors.
“Every day that goes by more families return to the camp. Within hours, they have swept up and cleared away ashes and debris, so that they can try to imagine where to begin again. Mattresses with faeces are being burned. Journalists are still prohibited from the camp. Cameras are illegal there. Human rights groups have not entered …”
This report was published here on Electronic Intifada.
According to the UN spokesperson on Wednesday, UNSG BAN Ki-Moon has informed the UN Security Council that “Lebanon has continued to experience political crisis and instability in recent months. He notes the recent challenge posed by the Fatah al-Islam group, and commends the Lebanese Government and Armed Forces for successfully weathering a critical test on the road to a truly free and sovereign Lebanon“.
In this report, BAN calls Fatah al-Islam a “militant Islamist group”. Click on your preferred of the UN’s six official working languages for this report here.
A very large part of Ban’s report is devoted to Fatah al-Islam, and observes that “the emergence of Fatah al-Islam, the precarious security situation and the enduring political stalemate underline the undiminished challenges to the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of Lebanon”.
Ban reported that he received a letter dated 8 October from Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora information, the Prime Minister wrote, “clearly points to a carefully drawn plot, of very serious and dangerous proportions, to seize control of a good part of northern Lebanon, destabilize the whole country by bombing Government and business institutions, mount attacks against UNIFIL in order to threaten participating countries and jeopardize the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, particularly 1701 (2006)”.
There was an oblique reference to an attack on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on 24 June that killed six peacekeepers.
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