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Hamas’ Lebanon branch has been going out of its way to “clear up” what it called “the misunderstanding” provoked by its announcement on Monday, December 4, of the establishment of the “al-Aqsa Flood Vanguards.”

“We want to clarify the confusion and misunderstanding that the statement has caused. We want to assure the Lebanese that this is not a military project, or a substitute to the Qassam Brigade (Hamas’ military wing) but a framework to assimilate the large number of Palestinian youths inside the camps in Lebanon who are drawn to Hamas,” insisted Walid Kilani, the group’s spokesperson in Lebanon, in an interview with This Is Beirut.

“It will be a framework to groom them on the political, religious, ideological, and national principles of Hamas,” Kilani added.

A Palestinian source close to Fatah, the mainstream movement of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), acknowledged Hamas’ growing popularity among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon following the al-Aqsa Flood operation.

“Even Fatah members and leaders of the movement are supportive of Hamas. Some leaders criticized the Palestinian Authority’s mild stance and reaction to what’s happening in Gaza, describing it as non-ethical and not national. They believe the PA should be openly supportive of Hamas and more engaged in the struggle against Israel,” the source told This Is Beirut.

According to the source, the establishment of the “al-Aqsa Flood Vanguards” is meant to convey a political message to the Palestinian factions, especially Fatah, in Lebanon, as well as to the Lebanese authorities.

He explained that the message is about Hamas’ size and political weight. It implies that the equation or balance of power that existed inside the camps before the al-Aqsa Flood operation, under which Fatah had the upper hand, “is no longer relevant.”

Hamas’ move is also addressed to the Palestinian Authority at a time when there is talk about expanding the PLO to include the Islamic group, and holding elections of the Palestinian National Council.

“Hamas is saying that it will have a bigger share of authority and power in the camps in Lebanon, as well as in the Palestinian National Council and any other political representation of the Palestinian people in general,” the source added.

The announcement of the establishment of ‘Al-Aqsa Flood Vanguards’ with the mission of “liberating Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” triggered concerns and condemnations by Lebanese politicians and the majority of the Lebanese people, bringing back painful memories of ‘Fatah land,ʼ when PLO guerrillas were free to use southern Lebanon as a launching pad for attacks against Israel.

According to Kilani, the timing of the announcement is linked to the raging war in Gaza that erupted following Hamas’ unprecedented attack on Israel, which caused the death of some 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals on October 7.

“Following the operation, Hamas gained large popularity among the Palestinian refugees across Lebanon’s 12 camps, especially among the youth. Tens are coming to us asking to be partners in the liberation of Palestine. We thought al-Aqsa Flood Vanguards is the best framework to accommodate and mobilize them socially and politically,” Kilani stressed.

He denied any attempt by Hamas to repeat past experiences, such as the ‘Fatah Land’ in southern Lebanon, stressing that Hamas’ participation in the confrontations alongside Hezbollah in the south was more of a symbolic move in solidarity with Gaza, and was done under the umbrella of the Iran-backed party.

“Hamas’ participation was not aimed at escalating the confrontations in the south or dragging Lebanon into an open war,” he said, adding, however, that in the event of an “open-ended conflict” with Israel, all those “present on Lebanese territory” will have to join the fight.

While denying the existence of military training camps run by Hamas inside the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, the pro-Fatah source pointed out that “it is common knowledge that they have been training in areas in Lebanon, probably in the Bekaa” in Hezbollah-controlled areas.

When asked about the size of Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s armed presence in Lebanon, the source said, “nobody knows their size. It is a well-guarded secret.”