On April 11, armed clashes broke out between secular Fatah soldiers and jihadists in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein El Helweh in Lebanon. The incident, which left ten dead and some 50 wounded, barely made news in the region and not at all in the United States. That’s partly because internal fighting in the camp has been a fixture since its creation in 1948, following war between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
But the latest Palestinian mini war, which took place over five days, was not the usual struggle over who controls which part of this depressing and impoverished zone. This was a fight with serious implications for the future of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah as a political party outside Palestine and for the future of Sunni extremism in Lebanon.
What precisely triggered the shooting matters less than its underlying cause, which is the growing clout inside the camp of an extremist group led by Bilal Badr. Little is known about Badr’s background, ideology, or objectives. Despite his young age (he is believed to be in his late twenties), his reputation as a fearless radical and competent fighter has spread throughout the camp. He is wanted by the Lebanese authorities for attacking army checkpoints several times and by Fatah for assassinating some of its leaders and plotting against those of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Lebanon. He is also suspected of having participated in the 2007 battle of Nahr Al Bared between the Lebanese Army and the al Qaeda-linked Fatah Al Islam in the country’s north, which led to the destruction of that refugee camp and the defeat of the terrorist group. Although it is unclear who Badr currently supports or represents (whether the Islamic State (ISIS), al Qaeda’s al Nusra Front, Jund al Sham, Fatah al Islam, or Abdullah Azzam Brigades), one sure thing is that he has been committed to the cause of Sunni radicalism, both in Lebanon and Syria, where he