Ain Al Hilweh death toll rises as yet another ceasefire breaks down

Violent repetition of cycle that began in late July after assassination of senior Fatah commander

Overview of Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp. EPA
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At least seven people died on Wednesday as clashes intensified between Palestinian factions and armed extremists in Lebanon’s largest refugee camp for Palestinians, Ain Al Hilweh.

At least four people were wounded on Wednesday evening, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency.

Videos circulated of camp residents carrying suitcases and rucksacks, leaving the vicinity of the camp, parts of which were on fire.

“The contacts and meetings that took place today at the highest levels did not succeed in stabilising the ceasefire,” the state news agency reported.

It was referring to meetings between Lebanese leaders and senior officials in Fatah – the dominant political party in the Palestinian Authority.

Fatah spokesman Youssef Al-Zari’i said: “Today our positions were attacked by terrorist forces, which forced our members to respond to them."

But social media groups aligned with the camp’s Islamist factions claimed that Fatah had launched the attack.

Fatah denied it had launched a military operation, saying in a statement that “zero hour has not yet been determined".

It was a violent repetition of a cycle that began in late July after the assassination of senior Fatah commander Abu Ashraf Al Armoushi by hardline Islamist militants, prompting party officials to demand the surrender of the killers or face forceful retribution.

But the militants remain barricaded inside two UN compounds within the camp.

Battles have since raged intermittently in the camp and its outskirts, while both sides trade blame for the routine breakdown of ceasefires.

At least 28 people have died in the two rounds of fighting that have taken place since late July, with dozens wounded and thousands displaced to mosques, schools, shelters and the homes of relatives in Saida city, where Ain Al Hilweh is.

Saida city has become victim to the conflict, with buildings damaged and at least one civilian dead due to stray fire.

Last week, five Lebanese soldiers were injured in the shelling of their military position near the camp.

Ain Al Hilweh is home to more than 50,000 registered Palestinian refugees, although unofficial estimates place the camp population at 70,000 people.

Updated: September 13, 2023, 10:54 PM