January 2, 2018 / 10:35 AM / in 2 months

Palestinian militant chief in Lebanon camp says he's moved to Syria

SIDON, Lebanon (Reuters) - A prominent Palestinian militant whose followers have fought other factions in a refugee camp in Lebanon has traveled to Syria, he said, removing one of the main combatants in one of Lebanon’s most volatile settlements.

A statement by Bilal Badr, who led a hardline Sunni Islamist faction against mainstream Palestinian groups in the Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp at Sidon, did not say when or how he had traveled to Syria.

The rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad has drawn militant Sunnis from across the region. After fighting in Ain el-Hilweh in August, Palestinian groups urged wanted security suspects to leave the camp.

Badr’s statement addressed his supporters “from the land of jihad and glory, from Assad’s lair in Syria, to which we migrated to support the religion of God”.

The statement was circulated on social media inside the camp and its authenticity was confirmed by a source close to Badr.

Although his statement revealed his presence in Syria, it was issued to thank followers for helping his wife, who had been briefly detained, rather than to describe his whereabouts.

Islamist sources in Ain el-Hilweh said Badr had gone to Idlib province which borders Turkey in northwest Syria and is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist alliance spearheaded by the former al Qaeda affiliate in the country.

Badr fighters have repeatedly battled the mainstream Fatah and other factions in Ain el-Hilweh, leading to more than a dozen deaths in 2017.

Lebanon’s Palestinian camps mainly fall outside the jurisdiction of the Lebanese security forces. There are 170,000 Palestinian refugees living in 12 camps in Lebanon, according to a recent census announced by Lebanese authorities.

Writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean

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