Beirut: A Palestine Liberation Organisation official said on 23 May that it would not object if the Lebanese army decided to send its troops into a refugee camp to crush Islamist extremists entrenched there.
“This is a Lebanese decision, this is Lebanon’s decision,” said Abbas Ziki, the PLO representative in Lebanon, despite a decades-old arrangement under which Palestinian camps remain outside the government’s control.
“We have declared that the country is for Lebanon and sovereignty is for Lebanon, and whatever Lebanon decides or considers its higher interests, we support it,” he told reporters.
Lebanon has vowed to wipe out militants from shadowy Sunni extremist group Fatah al-Islam who had been locked in three days of fierce gunbattles with government troops around Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon.
Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps have been off-limits to the army for decades under a 1969 agreement which was annulled by parliament in 1987.
But in line with a tacit agreement since then, the camps have remained under the control of armed Palestinian factions, with the Lebanese army enforcing security around the shantytowns.
Sultan Abu Aynain, the Lebanon head for Fatah, the main component of the PLO, told AFP his fighters could become involved in the battle against Fatah al-Islam.
“I believe we must eliminate this curse ourselves and all options, including military, are in my opinion open,” he said. “We don’t want a war to break out in Lebanon from the Palestinian camps... We must pass from words to action.”
The Lebanese government has vowed to crush the “terrorist phenomenon” of Fatah al-Islam, a group of Sunni Islamists which emerged only late last year.
Fatah al-Islam, which remains entrenched in some parts of Nahr al-Bared, is made up of extremists from mainly Arab nations and is led by a former rebel of the mainstream Fatah.