Is Lebanon on the eve of a military coup?

The killing taking place in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon is now being added to the long list of barbaric acts the masses have had to suffer in that country. But what is behind all this? Why for instance is the US government preparing to send millions of dollars to the Lebanese army to crush a tiny group of Islamic militants?

Thousands of Palestinians have been fleeing Nahr al-Bared (Cold River), the refugee camp in northern Lebanon after several days of fighting between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army, that has heavily bombarded the besieged camp. The clashes erupted when security forces tried to arrest suspects in a bank robbery. Militants from Fatah al-Islam then attacked army posts at the entrances to the camp.

The camp, situated 16 km north of Tripoli near the coastal road, was established by the League of Red Cross Societies in 1949 to accommodate Palestinian refugees from the Lake Huleh area. Now, according to UNRWA, the agency that cares for Palestinian refugees, the 40,000 Palestinians living in the one square kilometre Nahr al-Bared camp are reportedly running out of supplies. Water is a major issue, and food and medical supplies will be a major issue very soon.

More than 80 people since Sunday have been killed and hundreds were injured in the country's worst internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war. "The army's bombardment of Fatah al-Islam positions has been fierce and unfortunately a large number of shells landed on the homes of refugees," said Hajj Rifaat, an official from the mainstream Palestinian movement Fatah. "The electricity has been cut, there's not much water and the camp's bakeries are shut".

According to Al Jazeera's reporter Zeina Khodr, "Busloads of civilians are being evacuated... some of the people who are fleeing are injured and require urgent medical treatment. They are being taken to hospitals into the northern city of Tripoli".

Omar Keenan, a doctor in one of the camp's medical centres, told the reporter: "The situation was a disaster There are severe casualties. We are in need of blood, our blood bank is empty. We are performing operations on the floor. These medical centers have come under fire and people are crying out for help. We have no ability to cope. The number of casualties is in the hundreds. We are very concerned about the potential spread of disease as the sanitation systems are collapsing."

A of UN relief convoy was hit in northern Lebanon as it tried to enter Nahr el-Bared on Tuesday, and there are possible casualties, a relief official said. The official from UNRWA said a pickup truck and a water tanker were caught between the lines of the militant Fatah Islam fighters and the Lebanese army, which fired at the convoy. "The army hit the place where the pickup truck and the tanker were. The army knew we were there and emptying our goods," the UN relief official told The Associated Press by telephone from the entrance of the camp.

UN officials in the Beddawi camp about 10km away said they expected 10,000 refugees to arrive through the night. This human river made of Palestinian refugees that were expelled by Israel in 1948 are afraid that the Lebanese army will bulldoze the camp.

The imperialists support the killing

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, the new servant of US imperialism who has not opened his mouth while Israel has been bombing Gaza, has demanded an end to Fatah al-Islam's attacks on the Lebanese army. "These actions constitute an assault on Lebanon's stability and sovereignty, and have seriously endangered civilians. They must halt immediately," Michele Montas, Ban's spokeswoman, said in a statement. And what about the civilians and the attack on the UN convey? Not a single word.

Similarly, the Arab League, that only last week had spoken of the need to maintain the stability of the region, has condemned the "criminal and terrorist acts" committed by the so-called terrorist group Fatah Islam against the army, Lebanese security forces. It added that it supported the efforts of the Lebanese government to root out the "group of criminals."

According to Haaretz in Israel, on Tuesday the Arab League promised military assistance for the Lebanese army at a special meeting in Cairo. In a statement issued after the meeting, ambassadors from Arab League member states said: "The Arab League council... thanked Arab states which have provided military assistance and equipment to support the Lebanese army and security forces." And why does the Lebanese army needs such support when Fatah al-Islam's is no more than a small group? No explanation is given.

Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief has also defended the actions of Lebanon's military in the refugee camp, saying Lebanon was fighting a "terrorist group". The US State Department has also declared that it is considering providing financial help to the Lebanese army. "We are considering a request for additional assistance coming from the Lebanese government. The Lebanese armed forces are engaged in a tough fight against a brutal group of violent extremists," Sean McCormack, State Department spokesman, said. On Sunday The Daily Star of Lebanon met several followers of the right-wing Future Movement living near the camp who expressed "willingness to assist the army"

Why are all the imperialists and their puppets so eager to destroy this refugee camp, where a small group of at most 200 Islamic militants are based? Security sources said already on Monday that 25 militants had been killed and that 40 were in custody. The army said 30 soldiers had been killed so far in the battle, and released photographs of 19 of them. By now many more members of Fatah al-Islam are already dead.

Government officials have expressed concern (or hope?) that the Nahr al-Bared clashes could spark a chain reaction in Lebanon's 11 other refugee camps. However, if this does happen surely it is because of the scale of the civilians killings carried out by the army, not because of the strength of this group whose members are confined only to Nahr al-Bared.

Very little is known about this Sunni group led by Shaker Abssi, a Palestinian wanted by both Syria and Jordan. Abssi was jailed for three years by Syria in 2003. Damascus has issued a new arrest warrant against him. This group is opposed by the major Palestinian political groups and has nothing to do with Hezbollah. Abssi is suspected of having links to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late Jordanian leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. In 2004 a Jordanian military court sentenced Abssi to death in absentia for his alleged involvement in the murder of Laurence Foley, an American diplomat, in Amman in 2002. Fatah al-Islam statements have appeared on Islamist websites known to publish al-Qaeda statements. However, many people suspect that al-Qaeda is merely being used as an excuse here..

Fatah al-Islam has made clear that its main interest was not the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel. Instead it aims to introduce a Taliban-style interpretation of Islam into Lebanon, where Shi'ites, Christians, Druze and even moderate Sunnis have been labelled "infidels" and thus could legitimately be killed. In other words it aims at fermenting ethnic religious clashes like in Iraq which only serve the interests of the US imperialism. They act more as agent provocateurs pushing for a civil war than simply a legitimate Palestinian militant group. Among intelligence officials investigating a spate of killings since the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri two years ago, the finger of suspicion has pointed straight at Fatah al-Islam.

Since last November non-Lebanese nationals had started arriving in the mountains just north of Tripoli and in the main Palestinian camp in Lebanon's second-largest city itself. Authorities have said that the camps, particularly Nahr al-Bared, had been infiltrated by Salafi Islamic militants, with no connection to the Palestinian cause. A group calling itself Fatah al-Islam emerged from these foreigners. It set up its base in the middle of Nahr al-Bared, a no-go zone for the Lebanese army, or police, under autonomy agreements signed with Palestinian leaders almost 40 years ago.

The Lebanese government of course attempts to link Fatah al-Islam to Syrian intelligence. Ahmad Fatfat, a Lebanese cabinet minister, said Sunday's violence was part of efforts to sabotage the setting up of an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri. But Syria rejected these accusations saying it had tried to arrest the group`s leaders.

"Our forces have been after them, even through Interpol," Foreign Minister Walid Moualem said in a lecture at Damascus University. "We reject this organization. It does not serve the Palestinian cause and it is not after liberating Palestine". The (Syrian) Interior ministry had already issued statements about the leaders of Fatah al-Islam after a bombing in Lebanon several weeks ago, Moualem reported, referring to Syria's denials in March that it had any links to the group, which was accused of bombing two buses near Beirut. And indeed why should Syria, that is seeking "peace" with Israel - which means peace with the imperialists who want to break the connection between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah - risk all this by lending support to such a group?

Abu Salim, a leader of the group who denies that his group is part of Al-Qaeda, claimed that his group, despite having relatively young members, had great expertise. "We have former military men as members, and many of us have fought in Iraq against the US troops," he said. The group includes former soldiers from the Jordanian, Syrian and Lebanese armies, he added.

While of course we have no knowledge of whether this group is indeed connected to Al-Qeada, it is clear that the imperialists and their puppets in the region are using the actions of this group as a pretext for attacking the Palestinian refugee camp.

The fact that the ruling elites in the pro-imperialist camp are trembling as a result of the growing instability of the entire region that flows from the defeat of the US in Iraq and Israel in Lebanon is very clear. However, this does not explain the ferocious attack on the refugee camp. It could be to do with a possible preparation for a war on Syria that can be blamed for backing this group. Last month, four Syrian members of Fatah Islam were arrested by Lebanese authorities over the February bombing of a commuter bus that killed three people and injured 20.

Fatah Islam, was formed according to some Western sources as an offshoot of the Damascus-based Palestinian Fatah Uprising. However, a deadly shoot-out between Fatah Islam and Fatah Uprising in Nahr al-Bared on March 19 not only made it clear that the two are enemies but it also led the Lebanese army to surround the camp at the time.

It could be to do with a preparation of a massive attack on the Palestinians refugees in Lebanon among whom many support Hamas. Since Hamas came to power in the Palestinian Territories in January 2006, the refugee camps in Lebanon have suffered their worst financial crisis for many years. All 12 official refugee camps in the region known as the Lebanon Field are suffering from serious problems: No proper infrastructure, overcrowding, poverty and unemployment. The Lebanon Field has the highest percentage of Palestinian refugees that are living in abject poverty and who are registered with the agency's "special hardship" programme.

About 2,000 students, two-thirds of all Palestinians in higher education, failed to register for Lebanese universities this year. They were simply unable to pay their university fees after failing to receive money from Fatah, whose income has been crippled because of a Western boycott of the Hamas-led government. The growing despair of the Palestinian refugees is felt in all the 12 camps and the government fears an uprising...

"What's happening is a massacre," Bilal Aslan, told reporters. He is a commander in Fatah, the largest Palestinian faction inside Nahr al-Bared and a secular rival to Fatah al-Islam. He added, "The situation is tragic and can't continue like this. We have lots of wounded people who we cannot take to hospitals. Two wounded men in their thirties bled to death today because they were trapped inside the camp. The big crisis is water. If we do not manage to get water into the camp, the situation will be a disaster for the civilians."

Aslan said that, "though the Lebanese army had made some progress he did not believe Fatah al-Islam were on the brink of defeat", saying they had sleeper cells outside the camp they have not yet activated. He also added that, "Fatah had orders to fire on Fatah al-Islam only when attacked, but warned that continued civilian deaths could lead to an uprising by Palestinians in other camps".

Already the anger among Palestinians is spreading. Enraged by the assault on the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon they have set fire to car tyres in three other camps. The protests are at Ain el-Hilweh, Lebanon's largest Palestinian camp, Rashidiyeh and Beddawi. The main Palestinian factions, including Fatah and Hamas, have distanced themselves from Fatah al-Islam and denounced the fighting, warning that it endangers Palestinian civilians. However, the situation in Beddawi may force them to oppose the army which may led to a new civil war. 400,000 Palestinians refugees live in Lebanon more than 215,000 in the 12 refugee camps and altogether they constitute 10 percent of the population.

It is clear that Lebanon is in deep economic and political crisis. A situation where the government has very little control and legitimacy in the eyes of most Lebanese, and Hezbollah, the winner of the war against Israel and still the most popular political power in Lebanon, refused to bring down the government last January at the time of the biggest mobilization of the masses in the history of Lebanon.. This is a classical situation for the army to stage a military coup in a desperate attempt to stabilize the situation in the interests of the imperialist masters.

The Seniora government has vowed it would take "all necessary measures" to restore order after the fighting. The government has also asked the United States for $280 million in military assistance to help put down the uprising, the U.S. State Department reported on Tuesday. About $220 million would go to the Lebanese Armed Forces and another $60 million to security forces, spokesman Sean McCormack said. He added that the United States is weighing up the request. He declined to specify the type of assistance requested.

Why is so much aid being sent to the Seniora government and the army fighting a group of 200 people half of them already dead or captured? What lies behind this request is clearly something else. It is the real danger of a military coup and a new civil war.

This is a serious warning to the working class and the revolutionary youth of Lebanon. Unless the working class and the masses are mobilized and a revolutionary leadership is built, Lebanon is in danger of military rule and a new civil war.

The few who see themselves as Marxists should turn to the ranks of the Communist Party, the largest workers' formation in Lebanon, and struggle there to offer a genuinely socialist revolutionary perspective and struggle to transform it into a revolutionary party based on the ideas, methods and programme of Lenin and Trotsky. "Socialism or barbarism" is not an abstract distant perspective in Lebanon. They are the two options the working masses of Lebanon are facing.


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