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Old 09-02-2007   #42
Rex Brynen
Council Member
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Montreal
Posts: 1,600
Default Nahr al-Barid.. what's next?

Lebanese troops crush Islamists in siege camp
2 September 2007

NAHR AL-BARED, Lebanon (AFP) Lebanese troops on Sunday took full control of a devastated refugee camp that had been besieged for three months and held by diehard Islamist militants of Fatah al-Islam, the military said.

The Palestinian camp, a honeycomb of tunnels and houses reinforced against possible Israeli air attack, finally fell to a mass assault on Sunday after troops killed at least 37 Islamist militants as they made a desperate pre-dawn bid to break the siege, army and security sources said.

Another 15 Islamists were arrested, some of whom had managed to make it to nearby villages but were caught in the manhunt that included troops searching roofs and watertanks.

More than 220 people, including 158 Lebanese troops, were killed during the standoff which started on May 20 near the sprawling camp outside the northern city of Tripoli.
Now the hard part starts.

More than 32,000 people were displaced from Nahr al-Barid refugee camp, most of them fleeing to nearby Baddawi camp where they've been put up in refugee homes and UNRWA and Lebanese government schools since May 20. Nahr al-Barid is, from the UNOSAT (Ikonos) satellite imagery that I've seen, very badly damaged. UNRWA will need to find space for temporary accommodation for the displaced Palestinians (a sensitive issue in Lebanon), and then will have to reconstruct the camp (another sensitive issue, complicated by a host of land ownership and other questions). The costs will be significant, with camp reconstruction possibly running well over $150 million (equivalent to about one-third of UNRWA's annual budget for all 4.5 million refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and the West Bank).

The Lebanese government was at pains to signal to refugees that the camp would be reconstructed, and that (in contrast to all previous governments) it was also committed to improving their general standard of living. However, given both the costs of continued reconstruction after the Israel-Hizbullah war last summer, high levels of government debt, and a Lebanese view that responsibility for the Palestinian issue is international, the funds for doing so will have to come from external (especially Gulf) donors.

Failure to reconstruct will not only prolong humanitarian suffering of the displaced, but will also be seen as confirmation of constant rumours that the Nahr al-Barid fighting was somehow engineered by the Siniora government and the US to destroy the camp, liquidate the refugee problem, etc.

Moreover, while the current government's position on Lebanese-Palestinian relations has been much more positive than past governments, the loss of so many Lebanese Army personnel (plus Fateh al-Islam rocketing of the Tripoli power station and nearby villages) has hardly improved relations at the popular level (despite few of the militants being Palestinian, and the government's emphasis that this was NOT a Lebanese-Palestinian conflict).
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