Lebanon: Clashes in Palestinian refugee camps kill 11


In a flare-up of violence that has left at least 11 people dead since it started, rival factions engaged in fighting in a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon for a third consecutive day on Monday, the New York Times reported.
According to Lebanese state media and a commander for the Fatah division, another Palestinian gang killed a senior of the Fatah faction and four of his bodyguards on Saturday, sparking violence in Ein al-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. The political group, Fatah, is in charge of the Palestinian Authority, which is in charge of running some of the occupied West Bank. The Fatah commander, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, claimed that his side was attempting to encircle the Jund al-Sham organisation, which he identified as being responsible for the attack on Saturday. An Islamist organisation called Jund al-Sham and Fatah had previously engaged in combat in Ein al-Hilweh, according to the New York Times.
“The clashes are expanding,” said Riad Abo Elaynein, an administrator at a private hospital near the camp, adding, “The sounds of shelling are still being heard from inside the camp.”
In an effort to advance towards Palestinian national unity, opposing Palestinian organisations such as Fatah and Hamas met in Egypt for reconciliation talks at the same time as fighting broke out. Since Hamas, the Islamist organisation that governs the Gaza Strip, won an election there and took over the coastal enclave from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, according to the New York Times, the Palestinian political establishment has been gravely shattered.
The Ein al-Hilweh camp is home to more than 63,000 people living in a small area of densely packed buildings, most of them Palestinians and their descendants who were forced to flee their homes in 1948 when the state of Israel was established, according to the United Nations. Clashes in the camp, which is under the administration of Palestinian groups, are not uncommon.
In 2017, following the dissolution of a joint security force in the camp that was aimed at preventing clashes between rival factions and cracking down on extremists, intermittent fighting over several months broke out between Fatah and Islamist groups, according to the United Nations. The fighting then left nearly 20 people dead and dozens injured, New York Times reported.
The regular Lebanese army forces rarely enter the camp, which is surrounded by a wall, according to the United Nations. Lebanon’s army is just one of many armed forces in the country, which include Shiite groups like Hezbollah that control large parts of the south and northeast. In addition, there are Palestinian factions that hold sway inside the various refugee camps around the country.
“We support what the Lebanese government is doing to impose law and order and we affirm our keenness on Lebanon’s sovereignty, including Palestinian refugee camps, and maintaining security and law,” the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement.
The clashes in the camp, which involved heavy weaponry — including machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades — threatened to spill over outside the walls of the camp to the coastal city of Sidon, south of Beirut on the Mediterranean, the New York Times reported.
The UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA said the death toll rose to 11 on Monday, with 40 having been injured and some 2,000 residents fled their homes. A government hospital on the outskirts of the camp was evacuated and its patients were either sent home or to other hospitals, the Lebanese health ministry said.
Palestinian factions in the camp have been meeting to discuss a cease-fire.
Abbas and Fatah condemned the killing on Sunday saying it undermined the stability of the camp. He called it “a terrorist assassination” of Palestinian Authority security forces who were working to keep the camp safe.
The refugee agency opened schools to accommodate those fleeing the fighting, and ambulances were waiting at the camp entrance to treat and transport the wounded, New York Times reported.
Several Lebanese soldiers were injured after an artillery shell from the camp landed inside a military base and other army and observation posts came under fire, according to the Lebanese army.
“The Army Command warns of the consequences of exposing military posts and their personnel to danger, whatever the reasons, and stresses that the Army will respond to the sources of fire in kind,” the army said in a statement.
This news was penned down by Raja Abdulrahim. He is a Middle East correspondent based in Jerusalem covering the Levant.