BEIRUT: The much-maligned permit entry system at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp was scrapped over the weekend, as the Lebanese Army vacated a building and a plot of land residents have set for use as a cemetery. According to several sources in the camp, the Army stopped requesting permits at the camp’s entrance Friday.
The Army has had a presence in and on Nahr al-Bared’s boundaries since the 2007 conflict between the Islamist group Fatah al-Islam and the Army laid much of the camp to waste.
The head of Hamas in Nahr al-Bared, Abdul-Rahim Ahmad al-Sharif, told The Daily Star the permit system had been eliminated Friday but there were still checkpoints at the camp’s entrance. “We are now entering the camp without permits, only by showing our IDs.” He said “in general, people are relieved” the permit system has been revoked.
The permit system has been a grievance of camp residents, who argued that it was humiliating, unnecessary and stunted economic recovery in the camp which was once a thriving economic hub for both Lebanese and Palestinians.
Journalists still require permission to enter the camp.
Sharif said a new Army division moved into the camp Friday, replacing the division that had been there since 2007. “We were familiar with members of the old division; these are new soldiers [so] they are searching our cars. They need some time to know us.”
The Army retains an intelligence office in Nahr al-Bared.
A Fatah representative in the camp, Abu Salim Ghneim, confirmed that the permit system had been lifted. “The checkpoints are still there, but there are no restrictions,” he said.
Both men said the Army pulled out of a house it had been using for operations inside the camp Sunday, but remains in two other houses.
The Army abandoned a plot of land where a cemetery has long been planned; however Sharif added it is surrounded by a fence and is inaccessible.
In June, the Army shot dead two camp residents after protests erupted when a soldier allegedly assaulted a female resident during a disagreement with one of her male relatives.
Since then, residents and Palestinian factions have been engaged in an ongoing sit-in. Its demands include an end to the permit system, the end to the Army’s control of camp land and property, and the release of 10 men who were detained during the protests. The men, some said to be as young as 15, were all released last week, but the Army still holds some areas of the camp.
Many residents have not been able to return to their homes since 2007, and another bone of contention is the slow pace of reconstruction.
Camp leaders met with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, representatives of General Security, Army Intelligence and the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee more than two weeks ago and agreed the permit system would be scrapped by July 15.