At least eleven killed as thousands flee 'war' among Palestinian groups in Lebanese camp

Fighting between armed factions at Ain Al Hilweh intensified on Monday despite calls for ceasefire

Members of the Fatah group take position during clashes with rival factions in the Ain Al Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp near Saida, Lebanon. AP
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A fierce battle between Palestinian factions in the Ain Al Hilweh refugee camp, the largest in Lebanon, raged for a third day on Monday as politicians pressed for a ceasefire.

The death toll has risen to at least eleven, with about 40 injured. More than 2,000 people have been displaced from the Palestinian camp in Saida since the fighting began on Saturday evening, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Footage circulating on social media showed heavy smoke rising over the camp as the sound of rapid machine gun fire emanated. Factions within the overcrowded refugee site used heavy weaponry, Lebanese state media reported.

UNRWA said a member of its staff was injured in the clashes, while the Lebanese army said a soldier at a nearby military barracks was wounded by shrapnel.

UNRWA said it had temporarily suspended all services in the camp but opened its schools to accommodate those displaced by the fighting and provide humanitarian assistance.

At least 11 people were admitted to Sidon's Hamshari Hospital on Monday as clashes resumed after a period of calm on Sunday evening, hospital director Dr Riyad Abu Al Enein said.

Talal Aboujamous, a doctor who lives in Ain Al Hilweh described the fighting in the camp as a “war”.

“The number of people being displaced from the camp is not small and the battle has expanded to every corner of the camp,” he told The National by phone. “When I look out the window I see scared people rushing to get out of the camp."

The sound of bullets whizzing past could be heard in the background as he spoke.

Dr Aboujamous said the violence had been escalating since Saturday evening, with only brief periods of calm.

A Lebanese security source told The National the army had closed off all entrances to the camp to prevent civilian casualties but it was not preventing fleeing families from leaving.

Lebanon's army does not enter Palestinian refugee camps in the country, leaving the Palestinian factions to handle security inside.

Mifleh Noufal, born and raised in Ain Al Hilweh but now residing in the nearby Mieh w Mieh area, said the sound of a battle had been near constant.

“The war is between Fatah and a group of extremists,” he said. “The Islamists don’t have a lot of support in the camp. They’re responsible for a number of assassinations and always try to make problems in the camp.”

The fighting was reportedly triggered by a failed assassination attempt on an Islamist extremist leader on Saturday, Lebanese state media reported, instead killing one of his companions.

On Sunday, Fatah security official Abu Ashraf Al Armoushi and four of his bodyguards were killed in a “heinous operation”, according to a statement by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), the umbrella organisation under which the Fatah movement operates.

The assailants were identified as members of the militant group Jund al Sham “and takfiri gangs”, said a statement by Maj Gen Subhi Abu Arab, commander of the Palestinian National Security Forces in the Lebanese camps.

Clashes between Fatah, the largest faction within the PLO, and rival Islamist extremists are not uncommon in the camp, which is reputed to harbour outlaws. Fatah has for years attempted to contain the presence of outlaws and smaller networks of insurgents who seek to gain control of the camp.

Ain Al Hilweh is home to more than 54,000 registered Palestinian refugees, according to the United Nations.

Updated: August 01, 2023, 9:08 AM