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PLO Denies Presence of Al-Qaeda-Affiliated Group in Refugee Camp - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A girl is pictured through a broken window after clashes at Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp near the port city of Sidon. (R)

A girl is pictured through a broken window after clashes at Ain Al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp near the port city of Sidon. (Reuters)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Palestinians based in the Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp in south Lebanon are angry over rumors that the Al-Nusra Front is currently present there. Many Palestinians worried about this possible involvement in the Syrian crisis and the implications it may have on them.

A prominent Palestinian source believes that propagating such rumors would only increase security and psychological pressures on the Palestinian people, stressing in a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat that there is no truth to these rumors, and that the Al-Nusra Front in not present in the refugee camp.

This is the latest controversial chapter related to the Ain Al-Hilweh camp, which is known for attracting elements affiliated with Islamist movements; however, Palestinian officials believe that over the years, the same set of individuals based in the camp have been accused of belonging to different Islamist groups.

Along with the report of the presence of the Al-Nusra Front in Ain Al-Hilweh, there have been alleged logistical meetings held by its officials concerning exporting its fighters to Syria.

A PLO source in the refugee camp emphasized in a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat that the reality on the ground is different.

While disputing the presence of the Al-Nusra Front in the camp, the source acknowledged the existence of sympathizers with Islamist organizations active in Syria.

The PLO source highlighted that two organizations, Fatah Al-Islam and Jund Al-Sham, had declared their presence in the camp in the past. No such statement has been made by Al-Nusra, which according to the source confirms that the support for the front is restricted to sympathizers only.

According to the same source, the location which was said to be Al-Nusra’s training camp is an elementary school building that was converted into a shelter catering to 25 families.

The source went on to say that the presence of Islamist movements in the refugee camp has been on the decline. Jund Al-Sham’s numbers have dwindled to 15 after clashes with Palestinian factions in the camp, while the Fatah Al-Islam organization was wiped out by the Lebanese Army in the Nahr Al-Barid camp in 2007.

Since then, no active Islamist organization has remained in the camp save Usbat Al-Ansar and the Jihadist Islamic Movement. Both groups have seen their activities and influence recede in recent years because of a shift in political activities.