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WASHINGTON – There are increasing indications that al-Qaida’s presence in Lebanon is on the rise, centering on the Palestinian Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near Sidon, according to informed sources, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

Al-Qaida’s presence has prompted the Lebanese army to place troops around the camp, which in turn has resulted in protests from the residents that troop presence is inhibiting their freedom of movement.

The army isn’t permitted to enter the refugee camps. It is believed that al-Qaida’s top operative, Tawfiq Taha, heads a cell at the camp, with the goal of attacking the Lebanese army. Sources also indicate that some of the members of the terrorist cell are army officers.

Taha, also known as Abu Mohammad, is believed to have planned attacks against United Nations peacekeepers and the Lebanese army in south Lebanon in recent years.

Al-Qaida’s presence in Ain al-Hilweh brings to mind action taken at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian camp near the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli in May 2007 by Lebanese Internal Security Forces.

The ISF was going after Fatah al-Islam militants who had robbed a bank and holed up at the camp.

The Fatah al-Islam is an offshoot of al-Qaida.

Militants gunned down some of the Lebanese security forces, an action which prompted the Lebanese army to shell the camp for some three months before the army took full control of the camp after eliminating the militants, but virtually destroying the entire camp in the process..

Most of the residents of the refugee camp had fled to other camps under control of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Taha was deputy to the Fatah al-Islam head, Abdul-Rahman Mohammad Awad, who was killed by the army shortly after the 2007 episode at Nahr al-Bared.

While there currently is calm at the Ain al-Hilweh camp, the standoff continues with the Lebanese army insisting that residents of the camp hand over Taha.

The Palestinian Follow-up Committee, which is comprised of nationalist and Islamist factions at the camp, has called the army an ally.

“The Lebanese army, which fought the Israeli enemy, is an ally of the Palestinian people,” the committee recently said in a statement. However, there is no indication that the camp will turn over Taha, but there haven’t been any attacks on the army, at this point.

Sunni Al-Qaida’s presence in Lebanon has been growing in recent years, with indications of their infiltration into the Bakaa border town of Arsal under the guise of being Syrian opposition activists.

Elements of al-Qaida in Lebanon have reached a point that even the Shi’ite Hezbollah is concerned about its increasing presence. The concern centers over the prospect that al-Qaida could launch an attack on Israel, which in turn would blame Hezbollah and create an open conflict between Lebanon and the Jewish state.

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