Fighting calms after five killed at Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon

Tents have been set up near Ain Al Hilweh to provide emergency shelter for people displaced by fighting between Fatah and extremist militants

Palestinian emergency personnel approach the entrance of Ain Al Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon, where clashes have erupted. EPA
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Fighting largely subsided at Ain Al Hilweh refugee camp, the largest for Palestinians in Lebanon, after intense clashes on Sunday left five people dead in continuing violence between members of Fatah and armed extremist militants.

Dozens were also wounded in the camp, located in the southern port city of Saida since fighting reignited on Thursday.

The casualties included a civilian, a member of the Fatah movement, which controls the Gaza strip and a fighter from Shabab Al Muslim – one of the extremist groups involved in the clashes, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported.

Sounds of shelling were heard on Sunday as they crossed the borders of the camp, NNA said, causing more casualties and material losses, adding that people were moving to safer areas in the city of Sidon.

The Lebanese army urged the rival sides to end hostilities and said it was working to “take appropriate measures and make the necessary communications to stop these clashes that endanger the lives of innocent citizens.”

By long-standing convention, the Lebanese army does not enter Palestinian refugee camps, leaving residents to handle security.

The sounds of bullets and rocket-propelled grenades echoed throughout Saida city on Saturday.

Ain Al Hilweh has remained tense following the assassination of Fatah military leader Abu Ashraf Al Armoushi and four of his bodyguards in late July.

Fierce fighting in the camp reignited on Thursday evening after nearly a month of a tense ceasefire and despite the attempts of Palestinian and Lebanese leaders to negotiate a lasting truce.

Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati contacted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday to discuss the developments, Lebanese state media reported.

“What is happening does not serve the Palestinian cause at all and constitutes a grave insult to the Lebanese state in general,” Mr Mikati said.

“The Palestinians are required to deal with the Lebanese state in accordance with its laws and regulations and to preserve the safety of its citizens.”

The killing of Mr Al Armoushi ignited fierce clashes between Palestinian factions, led by Fatah, and groups of armed Islamist extremists, among them the Al Qaida-affiliated Jund Al Sham.

Those clashes, which ended in early August after almost a week of fighting, resulted in 13 dead and at least 2,000 people displaced.

The latest round of fighting has also displaced more than 1,000 people, many of them for a second time in a month.

Some of the extremist groups have since barricaded themselves inside two UN compounds containing eight schools within the camp, refusing to surrender Mr Al Armoushi’s killers.

Fatah had previously given the groups a deadline to surrender the killers or face retribution. The deadline expired last week.

Hundreds of Ain Al Hilweh families displaced by the latest round of fighting have sought shelter in nearby mosques and schools.

Tents were erected by the Lebanese Red Cross and the Saida municipality near the city's Rafic Hariri Sports Stadium on Saturday, to help provide shelter for the growing number of people displaced in the clashes.

Mustafa Hijazi, the director of the disaster risk and crisis reduction management unit in the Saida Municipality, said about 16 tents that can accommodate about 100-150 people were set up, and they were planning to take in up to 250.

“It is not a permanent shelter, but rather a temporary one,” Mr Hijazi said.

Ain Al Hilweh is home to more than 54,000 registered refugees. It was created for Palestinian refugees who were forcibly expelled from their land in 1948 during the creation of what is now Israel.

In the past decade, the camp has earned a reputation for being a haven for outlaws and small networks of Islamist extremists.

Fatah has for years attempted to contain their presence.

Updated: September 12, 2023, 4:08 AM