Al-Aqsa Flood Vanguards unit: ‘Hamasland’ in south Lebanon?

The Palestinian Islamist movement’s announcement triggered an outcry in Lebanese political circles.

Al-Aqsa Flood Vanguards unit: ‘Hamasland’ in south Lebanon?

Hezbollah and Hamas supporters at a demonstration in support of Palestinians in Gaza, Nov.18, 2023 in Nabatiyeh, southern Lebanon. (Credit: Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters)

Decades after the defunct of Fatahland, is Lebanon heading toward Hamasland?

Faced with international pressure to halt its military operations on the southern front and withdraw its al-Radwan elite force to the north of the Litani River, in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, Hezbollah — and behind it the resistance axis — has chosen to respond in its own way.

On Monday, Palestinian Hamas announced from Beirut the establishment of the al-Aqsa Flood Vanguards unit in order to “emphasize the role of the Palestinian people, wherever they may be, in resisting the occupation by all legitimate means available.”

In its press release, Hamas called on “the youth and men of our people to join the vanguard resistance fighters and take part in shaping the future and liberating Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Mosque.”

In the midst of the Israel-Hamas war, this announcement seems like a reversal of multiple international resolutions, as well as the Taif Agreement and the Constitution.

It could even be seen as a repeat of the 1969 scenario, when the Cairo Agreement was signed, giving legitimacy to the Palestinian armed struggle from southern Lebanon.

An outcry in Lebanon

The announcement provoked a flurry of reactions on the political scene, mostly condemning a move that violates Lebanese sovereignty and could lead to the creation of uncontrolled armed hotbeds in the Palestinian camps.

Despite being an ally of Hezbollah, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) Leader Gebran Bassil said, “We categorically reject the creation of this unit by Hamas and believe that any armed action originating from Lebanese territory as an attack on national sovereignty,” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

“Lebanon has rights and its ‘national resistance’ against Israel empowers it to defend itself, but the creation of a Hamasland in the South weakens it,” he added.

Kataeb Leader Sami Gemayel expressed his indignation at Hamas’ approach. “The al-Aqsa Flood vanguards unit [should be created] in Palestine, not in Lebanon, not from Lebanon,” he wrote on X. “We will not go back to a bygone era,” he added.

Lebanese Forces MP Ghayath Yazbeck warned against “bringing the al-Aqsa vanguards to South Lebanon and leaving the way open to Hamas.”

“Lebanon, which cannot tolerate Hezbollah’s breaches, will not accept that Hamas violates its sovereignty. Only the army [must be present] in South Lebanon,” he said.

Ashraf Rifi, a Sunni opposition MP, also criticized “a serious mistake that should be rectified,” particularly since the move “will not benefit the Palestinian cause, which the mumanaa axis is exploiting for its own ends,” he wrote on X.

Faced with the outcry, Hamas’ representative in Lebanon Ahmad Abdel Hadi tried to rectify the situation on Tuesday. In a series of media statements, he indicated that it was not a military unit aimed at recruiting young people to take part in the “armed resistance.”

“It is a popular framework aimed solely at mentoring young Palestinians, many of whom wanted to join Hamas after Oct.7, and to take advantage of their scientific and artistic skills,” he said.

Abdel Hadi denied that this initiative was intended to take control of the Palestinian camps in Lebanon. “We can assure you that we have no plans to go back [to a bygone era]. This announcement does not mean a ‘Hamasland’ or a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty, because that page has been turned,” he said.

Commenting on these remarks, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati answered a question at a press briefing, saying, “This step is totally rejected, and we will not accept it. But the people involved clarified today that the intention was not military.”

Hamas’ announcement prompted comments from the other side of the border. “Which state do the Lebanese prefer? The Hamasland, which is part of Iranland, or the free and independent Lebanese state?” Avichay Adraee, the Arabic-speaking Israeli army spokesperson wrote on X.

Addressing the Lebanese, he recalled the famous Palestinian slogan during the Lebanese Civil War: “The road to Jerusalem passes through Jounieh.” He also said that Hamas’ move seems to have “received the support and blessing of Hezbollah … which means that Lebanon is heading towards the unknown.”

Hezbollah’s message

Yet, the pro-Iran camp claims not to care about the threats. Nor does Hezbollah pay much attention to the calls made for the creation of a demilitarized zone on the southern border and compliance with Resolution 1701, arguing that it is Israel that is violating the UN resolution.

With regard to Israeli threats to carry out a ground invasion to drive Hezbollah north of the Litani River, the party said it is prepared for all possibilities. “We are ready to wage an intense and fierce battle to prevent the Israelis, who have failed to achieve their military objectives in the Gaza Strip, from doing so in Lebanon,” said a source close to Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah responded to all the messages it received by saying that the operations it is carrying out in the south are in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and that if the fighting in Gaza stops, there will be a return to the status quo that was in place prior to Oct.7, so there will be no need to talk about Resolution 1701,” the source added.

Hezbollah “categorically rejects any trade-off between the implementation of the international resolution and the presidency of the republic or any other political issue,” the source said.

It believes that it is “impossible to compromise its freedom of movement and security in the South, or to subject its strategic presence in the region to political criteria,” even if this would enable the election of its candidate, Suleiman Frangieh, to the presidency.

Hamas’ announcement, which has surely been endorsed by Hezbollah, even seems to be the party’s response to international pressure and threats.

This is because, beyond the details provided by the Palestinian movement’s spokesman, this wartime move opens the door to the recruitment of militants and resistance fighters from all regional countries to take part in operations carried out from Lebanese territory, particularly from the south.

Hezbollah seems to want to take advantage of Hamas’ position, whether in Gaza or in Lebanon, to attract, through this movement which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, a large part of Sunni public opinion, which is very sensitive to the Palestinian cause.

With that in mind, the al-Aqsa Flood Vanguards unit was formed at a time when Hezbollah is working, according to information obtained by L’Orient-Le Jour, to form new groups under the name of “the vanguards of the unity of the fronts.”

“This means that the Lebanese arena has become wide open to operations against Israel, in a reproduction of the experience of Palestinian organizations before and during the Civil War,” denounced a political figure opposed to Hezbollah.

But what is even more important is that this move may also be linked to the possibility of Hamas fighters leaving Gaza if the Israeli military operations designed to dislodge them continue.

Then, the south of Lebanon would be turned into a “Mumanaaland” involving several parties, but under Hezbollah’s umbrella.

This article was originally published by L'Orient-Le Jour. Translated by Joelle El Khoury.

Decades after the defunct of Fatahland, is Lebanon heading toward Hamasland?Faced with international pressure to halt its military operations on the southern front and withdraw its al-Radwan elite force to the north of the Litani River, in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, Hezbollah — and behind it the resistance axis — has chosen to respond in its own way.On Monday,...