So, what's going on? Well, Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps are the site of pitched fighting between Lebanese forces and Fatah al-Islam, a radical Islamic splinter group that split off from the dominant Palestinian Fatah faction. There may be a Syrian connection, as the group is also a splinter from the Syrian-backed Fatah al-Intifada group. It's not a certain thing, though; they may have really split, or Syria may have engineered the "splinter" for plausible deniability of responsibility for the conflict. They are not al-Qaeda but are friendly to its aims, and are largely Lebanese with people from other nationalities mixed in. They supposedly also have about 150-200 members, though their numbers have probably increased.
Either way, on Sunday they began fighting with Lebanese authorities after a police raid on an apartment in Tripoli. The fighting left at least 41 dead; worse, though, is that multiple bombs have exploded in Beirut, suggesting the conflict may be spreading, and the conflict has left the 40,000 Palestinians in the Nahr al Bared camp without water, electricity, or enough food for the last three days. Aid was slow in coming, due to the danger; even after aid groups arrived, though, the convoy came under mortar fire- and anybody trying to get out of the camp by car was subject to sniper fire. Thousands are still leaving, however.
As for where this is headed...
The conflict has tugged at Lebanon's fragile social fabric, inflaming already difficult relations between the Lebanese and the Palestinians.It sounds like both the Lebanese and the Palestinians want this to end. The question, though, is whether they'll hold this unity as the conflict continues.
Many Lebanese see the Palestinians as a growing blight on their country and blame them for harboring groups like Fatah al-Islam. Some residents of Tripoli openly called for the army to destroy the camp altogether, insisting that the Palestinians be forced to move away.
Palestinians, who already feel discriminated against, say the shelling and machine-gun fire appear to have been aimed at them, not just at the militants.
On Tuesday, demonstrators at other refugee camps - including Lebanon's largest, Ain el Hilwe, and the Rashidiye camp - burned tires and chanted against the fighting, insisting, "We will not let our Palestinian brothers be slaughtered," The Associated Press reported.
Sultan Abu Aynayn, the leader of the Palestinian Fatah movement in Lebanon, speaking to reporters after a meeting with Siniora, warned, "If the random shelling does not stop, there will be uprisings in all the camps in Lebanon."
The other question? What's Hezbollah going to do?
(Portions of this drew on CFR's Fatah al-Islam backgrounder.)