On December 10, 2021, a Hamas weapons depot exploded in the Burj Al-Shamali Palestinian refugee camp in South Lebanon. According to reports in the Lebanese media, the depot exploded after a fire that had started in a fuel tank spread to the nearby Ubayy Bin Ka'b Mosque, where the weapons were stored. Hamas, for its part, firmly denied these reports, claiming in an official statement that the explosion was caused by an electrical short-circuit in a storeroom that held oxygen tanks and disinfectants used to treat Covid patients. This claim is at odds with the eulogy Hamas issued for Hamza Shaheen, its operative who was killed in the explosion, which said that he "was martyred while waging jihad." Moreover, Hamas officials, including the head of the movement's political bureau, Isma'il Haniya, visited his family to convey their condolences.
The incident caused intra-Palestinian tensions after shots erupted at Shaheen's funeral on December 12, killing three Hamas operatives and wounding several others, including political bureau member Zaher Jabarin. Hamas accused "the Palestinian Authority leadership in Ramallah and its security apparatuses in Lebanon" of deliberately murdering the Hamas operatives, sparking tension between Hamas and Fatah in the country.
The explosion at the Burj Al-Shamali refugee camp (Source: Al-Nahar, Lebanon, December 10, 2021)
The explosion of the arms depot at the mosque and the shots fired during the funeral sparked criticism from Lebanese politicians and journalists, who lambasted Hamas for storing weapons in a house of worship. They added that Hamas keeping arms in South Lebanon was a violation of UN Resolution 1701, which bans any armed presence south of the Litani river except for that of the Lebanese army. They argued further that there was no justification for any armed Palestinian presence in Lebanon, for this contributes nothing to liberating Palestine but only serves the interests of Iran.
This report reviews the criticism against Hamas in Lebanon following the explosion of its arms depot in the Burj Al-Shamali refugee camp.
Lebanese Politicians, Journalists: Palestinian Weapons In Lebanon A Danger, Violate UN Resolutions
Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces Party, tweeted: "[We demand that] the ministries of defense and the interior disclose the full official version regarding the explosion that occurred the day before yesterday in Burj Al-Shamali near Tyre, so we can draw the necessary lessons from it."
Former MP Fares Sou'aid tweeted: "The explosion in Burj Al-Shamali is a grave incident, despite Hamas' clarification.
"1. It awoke the Lebanese to the existence of the Palestinian weapons [in Lebanon].
"2. [It indicated] that there are weapons depots in areas where [UN] Resolution 1701 [bans weapons except for those of the Lebanese army].
"3. The natural place for [Palestinian weapons] is in Palestine, not in Lebanon.
"4. The worst thing is that these weapons are [controlled by] orders from Iran, which do not serve the interests of either Lebanon or Palestine, but only the interests of Iran.
"Honorable [Lebanese] President [Michel 'Aoun], your helplessness [to oppose all this] is suspicious."
Lebanese Forces Party MP Wehbe Katicha tweeted: "The big explosion near Tyre, which resulted in many victims, points to two dangerous [facts]: The first is that [UN] Resolution 1701 is being undermined, and the second is that places of worship are being used [for military purposes], in violation of UN resolutions which stipulate that they must be free of armed conflicts."
Lebanese journalist Maria Ma'alouf, known for her opposition to Hizbullah, tweeted: "How long will the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, especially those in which the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Hamas is active, continue to be exposed to deadly danger because [Hamas] stores weapons within them? Is it legitimate to turn mosques into weapons depots? That is a question for our extremist Palestinians [i.e., Hamas] and for the Lebanese state, whose will has been usurped by the Iranian party [Hizbullah]…" In another tweet, she wrote: "I am sorry for the Land of the Cedars [Lebanon], which, under the rule of the Iranian party [Hizbullah], has turned from a ray of light that illuminated the world and a source of culture, philosophy and creativity into a source of terror and drugs. The party of death and destruction [Hizbullah] did not suffice with this, but also turned [Lebanon] into a weapons depot for its affiliates in the so-called Muslim Brotherhood [movement], chief of them Hamas."
"Mayssoun Noueihed, a Lebanese reporter on the Saudi Al-Arabiya channel, tweeted: "The unsupervised weapons in my country are the source of all the problems [there]. [I say] no to all weapons except those in the hands of the legitimate security apparatuses."
Lebanese Writer: It Is The State That Should Defend The Citizens; No Other Weapons Should Be Allowed
Criticism was also voiced in the Lebanese daily Nida Al-Watan, identified with the March 14 Forces, which calls for Lebanese sovereignty and objects to weapons outside the control of the state. An article by journalist Bassam Abu Zeid said: "The debate… about the Palestinian weapons resurfaced in the recent days following the explosion of Hamas' weapons depot in the Burj Al-Shamali refugee camp near Tyre, even though the [Hamas] movement, like the rest of the resistance axis, denies that what exploded was a weapons or ammunition depot, and describes [the event] as an explosion of gas and oxygen tanks. In any case, it is our right as Lebanese to ask why there are Palestinian weapons in Lebanon.
"Some will say that these weapons are meant to help liberate Palestine, but we Lebanese have been suffering since 1948, and are still suffering, from these weapons, which have not liberated a single inch of occupied Palestine. Another question is when this liberation will finally occur.
"[Others] will say that these weapons are meant to defend the Palestinians inside Lebanon, and [then] the question is, defend them from whom? From the Israeli enemy? Explain to us how that would work. Defend them from Lebanese elements? Which ones? Defend them from warfare within the refugee camps, which breaks out periodically in the 'Ain Al-Hilweh camp, for example? The exchanges of fire [that caused] deaths and injuries in Burj Al-Shamali during the funeral of the Hamas operative [who was killed in the explosion] – are they not proof of the abuse of these weapons and of the harm they cause? Do the Palestinians really think that the Lebanese state and its army are incapable of defending them?
"If the Lebanese army is [really] incapable of defending the Palestinians, and that is why they keep weapons in the refugee camps and maintain military bases in various parts of Lebanon, and if the Lebanese army is [also] incapable of defending the state borders in the south, east and north, and that is why Lebanese groups keep weapons – then there are [also] no grounds for blaming anyone else or holding anyone else legally responsible for carrying arms in self-defense against any threat, domestic or foreign. [In other words,] no armed force in Lebanon is entitled to object to any other Lebanese group arming itself. If the [Palestinian] foreigner [may] carry arms in order to defend himself, [does it mean that] is it the right of any Lebanese to carry arms in order to defend himself, even against that same foreigner?
"We present this reality and ask these questions not in order to incite against [the idea of] armament, but in order to argue as follows: No country can survive without confining weapons to its own [apparatuses]. Only the state can defend its citizens and residents. A [properly-governed] state does not allow officials – senior or junior – to keep weapons outside the framework of its legitimate security and military apparatuses and then complain about the absence of state [control]… A [properly-governed] state must respect the UN resolutions, especially [Security Council] Resolution 1701. It must not undertake to liberate Palestine on its own, and pay the heavy and endless costs of this, along with the [Lebanese] people. That is the [kind of] state we want [in Lebanon], not a state where everyone has their own weapons."
Lebanese Journalist Khairallah Khairallah: Hamas Turned Gaza, And Now Also Lebanon, Into An Iranian Missile Base
Lebanese journalists in the international Arab media expressed criticism as well. Columnist Khairallah Khairallah wrote in the Emirati-owned daily Al-Arab, which comes out in London: "The explosion of Hamas' weapons depot in the Burj Al-Shamali refugee camp near the coastal city of Tyre gives us an idea about the conduct of this movement, which has undertaken to damage the Palestinian reputation in every place it becomes established… Hamas refuses to learn from the Palestinians' not-too-distant past, especially in Lebanon. It refuses to realize how dangerous its weapons are to Lebanon, or to what is left of Lebanon…
"Wherever Hamas is present, destruction is present as well. Why does it store weapons and explosives in Lebanon? Why does it refuse to realize that the PLO, and especially Fatah, struggled long and hard to formulate a Palestinian national plan? [But] the most important thing it refuses to acknowledge is that it was the PLO's departure from Lebanon that enabled it to regain its freedom [in contrast to Hamas, which remains in Lebanon]…
"Hamas' insistence on storing weapons and ammunition in South Lebanon, while exploiting the fact that the Lebanese state is not present in the Palestinian refugee camps, is puzzling. The mere memory of the harm caused by the Palestinian weapons to the Lebanese state and people should have been enough to dissuade Hamas from doing this. But what can be expected of a movement that belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood[?] It doesn't [even] care about the situation of the Palestinians in Gaza, so why should it care about the situation of the Palestinians in Lebanon or about the Lebanese people who live close to the [Palestinian] refugee camps?...
"Hamas' conduct in Lebanon, and the fact that it stores weapons there, may explain the decision taken by Britain last month to designate it as a terror organization…
"What is certain is that liberating every inch of Palestine is not a top priority [for Hamas]. [After] Israel withdrew from Gaza for its own reasons, Hamas turned Gaza into a besieged Islamic emirate. The world stands by watching the injustice suffered by the Gazans. Thanks to its rockets, Hamas caused Israel to be seen as a victim who is justified in besieging Gaza. Hamas has revealed that its real goal is to change the character of Palestinian society and transform it from an open, civilized and tolerant society into an extremist and backward one that will be easy to control. Hamas has practically destroyed the Palestinian national project. It has practically destroyed the Palestinians' independent decision-making and turned Gaza into an Iranian missile base. This is what motivated Britain to take the decision it took regarding this movement... Hamas wants to rewrite the history of Palestine and tie it to Iran's interests, and its activity in Lebanon is part of this…"
Lebanese Journalist Nadim Koteich: Hizbullah And Its Allies, Including Hamas, Are Turning Lebanon Into A Weapons Depot
Shi'ite Lebanese journalist Nadim Koteich wrote: "There is a lot of evidence that the explosion – no matter what caused it – was part of [the efforts to] deliberately turn Lebanon into a weapons depot. It may or may not be a coincidence that, several days ago, the [Israeli] paper Yedioth Aharonoth reported that, after the round [of fighting between Hamas and Israel] in 2014, Hamas decided to establish a branch in Lebanon that would help it if needed, so that Gaza would not be left alone [in the fray]. Indeed, during the last war in Gaza this May, there were rocket attacks [on Israel] from Lebanon that were ascribed at the time to Palestinian factions and groups.
"This reminds me of the visit made by Hamas political bureau head Isma'il Haniya to Lebanon – or, more accurately, to the 'Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp – in September 2020 and the declarations he made [there] at the time, which sparked a debate and many concerns among the Lebanese people. In a large rally [he attended on September 6], one day after holding a long meeting with Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, Haniya, surrounded by a crowd of armed [Hamas operatives], declared that 'the refugee camps in the diaspora are strongholds of resistance, where large events have taken shape, which have produced [great] heroes and where the Palestinian [cause] has been kept alive.' He [also] made a series of threats against Israel, including that 'the resistance possesses rockets that can destroy Tel Aviv and what is beyond Tel Aviv.' Later, [after his statements provoked criticism], he spent a lot of time clarifying that he had meant the resistance in Gaza, not in Lebanon! But statements made by Nasrallah on International Jerusalem Day in 2017, in which he threatened to open [Lebanon's] borders to thousands of foreign fighters who would fight with him against Israel, minimize [the credibility] of that statement…
"[The explosion in Burj Al-Shamali] comes in the wake of the French-Saudi statement about Lebanon, which was [later endorsed] by the Gulf as a whole, that the only way to address Lebanon's multiplying crises is to confine weapons to the legitimate state institutions and to implement Security Council resolutions 1559, 1680 and 1701, and [other] relevant international resolutions. The explosion in the Palestinian refugee camp only lent support to what was said in that French-Saudi statement about Lebanon…
"With this explosion, Hizbullah and its allies [also] conveyed their answer [to the French-Saudi statement], although they didn't necessarily mean to… [They conveyed that] Hizbullah's response to the international pressure to put its weapons on the table [i.e., allow a debate about them] is weapons, weapons and more weapons, [in the hands of] every organization…"
Palestinian Journalist: Armed Palestinian Presence Should Exist Only In Palestine
Palestinian journalist Bakr 'Awida wrote in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "Palestinian weapons do not belong in Lebanon or any other country [except for] Palestine, which is the only place where armed Palestinian presence should exist. Therefore, Hamas did the right thing by clarifying that the explosion in the Burj Al-Shamali refugee camp was caused by a short circuit in a warehouse that held a large number of oxygen and gas tanks for Covid patients…
"[But] is this clarification, and this phrasing, enough to dispel any possibility that Hamas does keep weapons in one of the refugee camps in Lebanon, and not only in Burj Al-Shamali? [Is it enough to reassure] the Lebanese side, which is concerned about Iranian control over Lebanon, that it does not have to worry about an armed Palestinian presence, in addition to the control that Nasrallah and his organization have gained, thanks to their weapons, over Lebanon's political and economic decision-making and over all spheres of life in the country? It is obviously not enough…
"History will most likely attest someday, from a completely neutral perspective, that it would have been better if the Lebanese state had not succumbed but had firmly opposed any armed Palestinian presence anywhere on Lebanese soil. Moreover, [history will show] that, had [Lebanon] opposed [this armed presence], this would have benefited the Palestinians' relations with the Lebanese state and with all the Lebanese people, as well as the relations between the Palestinian organizations themselves. I am aware that this statement will puzzle many of my readers, especially coming from a Palestinian writer [like myself]. But are my statements justified? They are, because they are based on experience, and are not just theoretical conclusions…
"Did the picture begin to change with [Israeli defense minister] Ariel Sharon's invasion of Beirut in 1982? Not at all. It [changed] several years earlier, for Sharon's invasion followed the crisis in the relations [between the Palestinians] and the people of South Lebanon due to the armed Palestinian presence in this region… Moreover, were there no armed clashes between the [various Palestinian] organizations in the refugee camps around Lebanon, due to their many conflicting alliances and loyalties? Of course there were, which means that the Palestinian weapons in Lebanon harmed not only the Lebanese but also the Palestinians themselves.
"Nevertheless, objectivity compels me to ask: Was it possible to avoid the armed Palestinian presence on Lebanese soil? Yes, it was, but not without an understanding between the Palestinians and the Syrians, which could have been the basis for a [new] Palestinian situation after the tragedy that occurred in Jordan [i.e., the Black September events in 1970]. Had Syrian president Hafez Al-Assad, who was the strongest player in the Arab regional arena at the time, wanted to do so, he would have declared Syria to be the main theatre for the conflict with Israel – not with the aim of liberating all of Palestine. It would have been enough for Damascus to do this in order to regain the Golan Heights, before anything else. This would have meant that all the Palestinian forces, and their weapons, would have gathered in Syria, with the consent of their leaders, and operated in full coordination with each other and with the commanders of the Syrian army. Had that happened, it may have spared Lebanon and the Palestinian cause many tragedies."
 Al-Nahar (Lebanon), December 10, 11, 2021; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), December 10, 2021.
 Hamas.ps, December 11, 2021.
 Hamas.ps, December 11, 2021.
 Shehabnews.com, December 12, 2021.
 The Fatah leadership announced the complete severing of relations with Hamas in Lebanon, whereas Hamas' representative in Lebanon, Ahmad 'Abd Al-Hadi, announced that his movement was suspending its participation in the joint Palestinian security force that operates in the refugee camps there, and was also severing its relations with the Palestinian Authority's National Security Forces. Shehabnews.com, Falestinona.com, December 14, 2021.
 Twitter.com/DrSamirGeagea, December 12, 2021.
 Twitter.com/FaresSouaid, December 15, 2021.
 Twitter.com/KatichaWehbe, December 12, 2021.
 twitter.com/bilarakib, December 11, 2021.
 twitter.com/bilarakib, December 15, 2021.
 Twitter.com/mnabou, December 10, 2021.
 Nida Al-Watan (Lebanon), December 13, 2021.
 Al-Arab (London), December 13, 2021.
 In this speech on June 23, 2017, Nasrallah mentioned "hundreds of thousands of jihad fighters" who would "come from all over the Arab and Muslim world." Almanar.com.lb, June 23, 2017.
 A joint statement issued following a meeting between French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), December 5, 2021.
 Asasmedia.com, December 13, 2021.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 15, 2021.