The deteriorating security situation in Lebanon has now spread to the northern Palestinian refugee camp Nahr Al Bared, a development that many observers cautioned against but the Lebanese authorities arguably could not prevent. Three Palestinians were killed last weekend in clashes with the Lebanese army, and many others wounded. For many, the clashes were reminiscent of the 2007 Nahr Al Bared conflict between Fateh Al-Islam, a pro-Syrian Islamist terrorist group, and the army, resulting in the death of 446 people. Meanwhile, a country-wide power blackout and the unknown fate of missing Lebanese pilgrims in Syria sent frustrated citizens to the streets, blocking roads and burning tires, amidst a flagrant absence of the Lebanese state.
Violence at the camps was brought to a cautious halt on Monday, although the Palestinian and Lebanese stakeholders remain wary of similar future incidents. Although some observers argue that the incident points to a Syrian role given the proximity of the camp to the Syrian border, the timing of the conflict, and the Syrian influence over Islamist groups in these camps, the situation in the camps has been ripe for conflict for years. Palestinian refugees have been living under sub-human living conditions. Indeed, the American Near East Refugee Aid recently said that the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, around 450,000 in camps across the country, suffer from the worst living conditions: widespread joblessness, poverty, bad housing and living conditions. While the problem of disarming those groups is politically complicated, the Lebanese government continues to overlook the humanitarian crisis in those camps.
Meanwhile, Syrian violations on the border have almost become a daily occurrence. Five rocket propelled grenades hit the Lebanese town of Msharrfeh on Thursday, and the Syrian Army continues to plant bombs at the borders in an effort to prevent arms smuggling. Furthermore, the fate of the kidnapped Lebanese pilgrims is unknown, and the Lebanese government has had little traction in bringing them back. Frustrated with the outcome, families and citizens took to the streets, doing the one thing they are capable of - blocking roads and burning tires. In fact, protests have been ongoing for months, covering a whole range of issues such as lack of basic public services, human rights and freedoms, among other grievances. The protests have exposed the degree to which the government has failed to deliver to the people.
With the worsening security situation, Lebanon has yet to witness what economists predict will be a slow tourism season. Violence continues to erupt across various pockets of the country, and international and regional leaders are now warning Lebanese politicians that they might be targets of assassination attempts. Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora admitted that he was warned against such plots, as was Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Christian Lebanese Fources (LF) leader Samir Geagea was the targeted of an alleged assassination hit in April.
The U.S. Administration has traditionally supported Lebanon's state institutions both diplomatically and through capacity-building programs. An increase of its technical, financial and military assistance to the Lebanese state may help the government deliver on the one hand, and maintain stability, on the other. This is becoming increasingly urgent with the volatile situation in refugee camps and the swelling Syrian refugee community in Lebanon. Indeed, a delegation from the U.S. State Department's Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization is due in Beirut next week. That could be a positive first step to be followed by measures that help strengthen the foundations of the Lebanese state.