Saturday, April 14, 2007
FERTILE GROUND FOR ISLAMIST RECRUITERS
BEIRUT - The Palestine Liberation Organisation has adopted measures to “isolate” Fatah Al Islam, an Islamist grouping blamed for deadly bombings in Lebanon, the PLO representative in Beirut said. “We are attempting to isolate Fatah Al Islam because we do not want the Palestinians to be perceived as an element of instability in Lebanon,” Abbas Ziki told AFP in an interview on Friday. Last month, Lebanese Interior Minister Hassan Sabeh said detained members of Fatah Al Islam had admitted carrying out bus bombings in a mountain village on February 13 that killed three people. But Fatah Al Islam, a small grouping which first came to be known last November and which is based in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr Al Bared in northern Lebanon, has denied any involvement in the attacks, Ziki said. Lebanese authorities were holding 15 members of the Islamist grouping over the bus attacks. Outlining the steps being taken, Ziki said the PLO military and political factions were determined to contain Fatah Al Islam, although without resorting to violence. “We have named a new military command, created a joint intervention force and released funds,” said Ziki. He said the measures involve close PLO cooperation with the Lebanese armed forces which do not have access to the camps that are controlled by Palestinian armed factions. Ziki said the funds are “a financial assistance for the people of Nahr Al Bared and the reactivation of medical and social services” in a bid to counter the growing Islamist wave in the camp. “They (Islamists) are attracting young people by using enormous financial means, they are teaching them how to handle arms at a time when the Palestinian Authority is facing a financial blockade,” he said. “We want to cut the grass under the feet of the Islamists,” he said. “Poverty has spread in the camps... and the refugees are deprived of their most elementary civic and human rights,” said Ziki. Lebanon has been shaken by a spate of political violence over the past three years, notably a series of assassinations targeting figures opposed to the country’s once-dominant neighbour Syria. Lebanese authorities say Fatah Al Islam is manipulated by Syrian intelligence services. The Islamist grouping denies links with the Al Qaeda international terror network, although its leaders have said that the two groups “follow the same (religious) line and methodology.” The bus bombings “have stirred bad memories and we have all understood that Fatah Al Islam wants to harm civil peace in Lebanon and disturb the new-found harmony between the Palestinians and the Lebanese,” Ziki said. Ziki reopened the PLO office in Beirut in 2006 after it had been closed since the 1982 Israeli invasion. The PLO had established a “state within a state” in Lebanon from 1969 until the Israeli invasion of the country in 1982, at the height of the Lebanese civil war.