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Lebanon: Truce efforts fail to end Palestinian fighting in Ain al-Hilweh camp

Clashes between rival Palestinian factions enter fourth day as ceasefire crumbles
Members of the Palestinian Fatah group during clashes at the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in Saida, Lebanon, 30 July 2023 (AP)
By Amena ElAshkar in Saida, Lebanon

Tensions between Palestinian factions remain high in Lebanon's Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp, after a ceasefire aimed at ending three days of fighting was breached on Tuesday.

Clashes between Palestinian armed groups broke out in the refugee camp, in the coastal city of Saida, following a failed assassination attempt on a senior member of a local rival of Fatah, which controls security in the camp. 

At least 11 people have been killed and 40 wounded, security and Palestinian sources said, while hundreds of residents have fled the camp.

Tensions escalated on Sunday when Abu Sheref el-Armoushi, a senior Fatah commander in the camp, and four of his guards were shot dead in an ambush by unknown assailants. 

Different attempts at a ceasefire, brokered by Hezbollah and the Amal movement, which control southern Lebanon, have been breached since then, with fighting climaxing on Monday as the warring groups used heavy machine guns, grenades and shoulder-fired missiles against each other in the camp's crowded alleys.

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Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah urged warring factions on Tuesday to end the fighting and called on anyone who could "pressure, say a word, make contact, make an effort" to secure a truce to do so.

"This fighting must not continue because its repercussions are bad - for the camp's residents, for the dear Palestinian people... for the south, for all of Lebanon," Nasrallah said.

Abed Abu Salah, secretary of the popular committee in Ain Al Helwe, has described circumstances in the camp as dire and catastrophic.

'Any Palestinian infighting only serves to advance the agenda of the Israeli occupation'

- Abed Abu Salah, secretary of the popular committee

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said 2,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, however Abu Salah said the actual number is likely to be significantly higher due to the intensity of the clashes and the level of destruction in the camp. 

Abu Salah said some residential buildings, particularly in the Hitteen and al-Tawari neighbourhoods which have seen the heaviest fighting, have been left uninhabitable. 

Unrwa has not yet committed to rebuilding destroyed homes, and the economic crisis in Lebanon will make it difficult for Palestinians to finance reconstruction efforts independently.

'This has to stop'

As the clashes intensified on Monday, Mohammed Shreidi took his wife and two kids, aged six and seven, out of the camp where they had been visiting his parents for the first time in three years.

Shreidi told Middle East Eye that he sheltered behind a wall in an area near the camp for some time as he waited for the situation to calm down so he could go back inside and evacuate his parents. 

"My parents are old and were not able to evacuate any sooner, before things got worse. I do not know how they are doing. We have not been able to communicate with them, and this is making me more worried," he said. 

“I also need to take my wife and kids to a safe place until we are able to go back to get our documents and belongings, and head back to Oman.

"I really was not expecting my vacation to turn out to be like this. A Palestinian can never get a normal life.” 

Ain al-Hilweh is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. It houses a population of nearly 80,000 people who live in an area of just 1.5 sq km. 

More than 480,000 registered Palestinian refugees are living in 12 camps across Lebanon. 

Security and governance inside the camps are the responsibility of Palestinian factions, mainly Fatah.

Lebanese forces do not intervene in security matters within the camps but control checkpoints leading to them.

Another ceasefire

Lebanon's highest Sunni seat of learning, Dar al-Fatwa, is currently leading efforts to reach another ceasefire.

"We are not sure who is breaking the ceasefire, but this has to stop," Abu Salah said.

"Any Palestinian infighting only serves to advance the agenda of the Israeli occupation."

Lebanon: Nine killed as Palestinian clashes renew for third day in refugee camp
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A Lebanese source involved in the mediation between the parties told MEE, on condition of anonymity, a comprehensive agreement does not appear to be on the horizon. 

Several Lebanese and Palestinian figures have suggested that the assassination of Armoushi, who was held in high regard in the camp, has contributed to the prolonged nature of the conflict.

The clashes come a few days after the head of the Palestinian intelligence service Majed Faraj visited Lebanon, and held several meetings with Lebanese and Palestinian figures.

According to local reports, Faraj had reportedly asked the Lebanese authorities to disarm the camps and to tighten control over the Palestinian military bases to ensure that expertise and weapons are not transferred to the occupied West Bank, amid a rise in armed confrontation between Israeli forces and Palestinian resistance groups.

Meanwhile, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he found the timing of the clashes "suspicious".

“We don't accept Lebanon to be used to settle scores on external matters, at the expense of the Lebanese and the people of Saida,” Mikati said on Monday during a cabinet meeting.

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