October 8, 2005

Palestinians and Weapons Smuggled Into Lebanon

Beirut is tense. Almost every Lebanese person I’ve talked to says they fear a massive bombing campaign across the country after the U.N.’s Mehlis report on the assassination of Rafik Hariri is released in December. The Arabic-language media is reporting daily on the smuggling of Palestinian guerillas and heavy artillery across the Syrian border into Lebanon. Reports in the English-language press are fewer and farther between, but they do trickle in.

Beirut, Lebanon- The Lebanese authorities have been alarmed by a massive influx of arms and Palestinian guerrillas from Syria to Lebanon in recent days and army troops reinforced by police and state intelligence units deployed at key passes on the common border to curb the incursion, An Nahar reported on Sunday.

The infiltrators belong to Syrian-backed Palestinian factions, mainly Ahmed Jibreel's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), which maintains border bases in Deir Al Ashaer and Sultan Yacoub in the Bekaa as well as the Naameh hills south of Beirut, An Nahar said.

The army has intercepted dozens of PFLP-GC fighters trying to sneak illegally across the Bekaa with arms shipments to the Deir al Ashaer and Sultan Yacoub strongholds, the two main spots that remain a focal point of sovereignty dispute in the wake of Syria's evacuation of Lebanon in April.

Many infiltrators were sent back to Syria, but An Nahar spoke of reports that undetected infiltrators managed to bring fresh arms supplies to the Naameh base as well as the Beirut Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps.

There were earlier media reports that Jibreel's guerrillas were reactivating their Lebanon strongholds, bringing in arms and reinforcements under the guise of a rotation operation.

Jibreel, who served as a captain in the Syrian army and acquired a dual Syrian citizenship, is the most trusted Palestinian ally of the Assad regime in Damascus. All his moves are coordinated with the Syrian military intelligence apparatus, which makes the ongoing influx look like a prelude for uglier terrorist operations in Lebanon.
Many Lebanese, perhaps the outright majority, blame the Palestinians for starting the 1975-1990 civil war that killed 150,000 people in a country of less than four million. Residents of some (but not all) of the camps have become so violent and radicalized they threaten to murder any Lebanese person who dares set foot inside. (The infamous camps of Sabra and Chatilla are still relatively “safe.” I visited Sabra myself and no one bothered me.)

The Daily Star reports (sorry, no link, dead-tree version only) a Syrian military base has been set up outside the Hilweh camp in South Lebanon – a clear breach of this country’s sovereignty.

The Daily Star also reports that Parliament has recommended a military state of emergency, Palestinian camps are being blockaded by the army, and the leader for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has ordered “all PFLP-GC officials in Lebanon's refugee camps to be on full alert and ready for mobilization at any time.”

It doesn’t look good. The situation here in this country isn’t precisely the rosiest I can imagine. Syria’s Bashar Assad did threaten to “burn Lebanon” if he was forced out. And he was forced out. But Lebanon hasn’t burned yet - not much anyway. A total of four people have been killed here since February. I for one don’t see why a massive terror campaign would start up after the U.N.’s report is released. I don’t see what Syria could possibly gain. Syria, on the contrary, could lose everything.

My sense is that bad memories and the usual Middle Eastern paranoia (which is understandable to an extent) is exagerrating most people’s dread of the worst case scenario. In April the fear on the street was that the Lebanese civil war would restart. It didn’t.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 8, 2005 6:32 AM
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