Ain al-Hilweh: deadly fighting erupts in Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon

Al-Jazeera  /  September 9, 2023

Members of the Fatah Movement and a Palestinian armed group had agreed to a ceasefire but fighting erupted again on Saturday.

At least two people have been killed in renewed clashes among Palestinian factions in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon as a ceasefire agreement agreed earlier was not honoured by the rival sides, state media reported.

One person was killed in the fighting inside the Ain al-Hilweh camp and another was killed by a stray bullet outside the camp, National News Agency (NNA) said on Saturday, adding that several people were also wounded outside the camp by stray bullets.

The sound of heavy machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades echoed throughout the camp and its outskirts, witnesses told DPA news agency.

The clashes, which erupted on Saturday inside Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp pitted members of the mainstream Fatah Movement and a Palestinian armed group calling itself Muslim Youth.

Reporting from outside the Ain al-Hilweh camp on Saturday, Al-Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr said neither side is backing down in the deadly confrontation.

“Efforts to end the fighting have so far failed. Ceasefire agreements have broken down time and time again. The Fatah Movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is at war with a number of armed groups that call themselves the Muslim Youth,” Khodr said.

“Fatah is demanding that the Muslim Youth hand over eight suspects believed to be responsible for assassinating one of its senior commanders. They are also demanding that the Muslim Youth vacate positions that they have set up in UN-run schools inside the camp so that the academic school year can begin. So far, the Muslim Youth is refusing to do that,” she added.

A public hospital which is located on the outskirts of the camp had to transfer all its patients to other facilities in the port city of Sidon because it was hit by several stray bullets.

‘Does not serve the Palestinian cause’

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati discussed with President Abbas the volatile situation in an attempt to end the fighting.

Mikati called for an end to the fighting saying that what is happening in Ain al-Hilweh “does not serve the Palestinian cause and is harmful to the Lebanese state”.

The Lebanese army said in a statement that it is taking measures, including contacting several sides, to work on ending the clashes. It also called on people to avoid getting close to areas of fighting.

The Ain al-Hilweh camp witnessed heavy clashes at the end of July following the assassination of Fatah commander Mohammad “Abu Ashraf” Al-Armoushi and several of his aides.

The fighting at that time resulted in the deaths of 13 people.

Ain al-Hilweh is home to approximately 80,000 people, most are Palestinian refugees from the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948 and their descendants.

Palestinians from Syria have also arrived because of the war in the neighbouring country. There are some 12 camps hosting Palestinian refugees across Lebanon.



Clashes resume in largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, killing 3 and wounding 10

Bassem Mroue

AP  /  September 9, 2023

BEIRUT – Clashes resumed early Saturday at the largest refugee camp in Lebanon between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah group and militant Islamist groups, killing three people and wounding 10 others.

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, discussed with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the volatile situation in an attempt to end the fighting.

Mikati called for an end to the fighting saying that what is happening in Ain al-Hilweh “does not serve the Palestinian cause and is harmful to the Lebanese state.”

Sounds of gunfire and explosions could be heard in the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp and nearby areas on the edge of the southern port city of Sidon.

The fighting resumed Friday, after a month of creative calm, forcing hundreds of people to flee for safety in nearby areas.

Fatah had accused the militant Islamist groups of gunning down one of their top military officials on July 30.

At least 20 people were wounded Friday.

The Lebanese army said in a statement that it is taking measures, including contacting several sides, to work on ending the clashes. It also called on people to avoid getting close to areas of fighting.

A Lebanese security official said the three people killed on Saturday included two Palestinians inside the camp and a Lebanese man who was hit with a stray bullet while driving outside Ain al-Hilweh. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said 10 others were wounded.

Senior Fatah official, Maj. Gen. Munir Makdah, refused to discuss the situation inside the camp when contacted by The Associated Press but said Fatah officials in Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories are for a cease-fire and blamed the militant groups for not respecting it.

“There is ongoing chaos. There is no battle but chaos and shooting from a long distance,” Makdah said from inside the camp.

Late on Saturday, the municipality of Sidon, with the help of the Lebanese Red Cross and the civil defense, set up more than a dozen tents at the northern entrance of the city to house scores of people displaced by the fighting.

“This is a temporary shelter and not a permanent one,” said Mustafa Hijazi, an official at the municipality of Sidon, adding that 16 tents were set up Saturday to house between 100 and 150 people. Hijazi said the plan is to reach 250.

Hijazi added that mobile toilets were also put in place near the tents and the Lebanese Red Cross and the civil society will work on bringing water.

Ain al-Hilweh is notorious for its lawlessness and violence is not uncommon in the camp. The United Nations says about 55,000 people live in the camp, which was established in 1948 to house Palestinians who were displaced when Israel was established.

Earlier this summer, there were several days of street battles in the Ain al-Hilweh camp between Fatah and members of the extremist Jund al-Sham group that left 13 people dead and dozens wounded.

An uneasy truce had been in place since Aug. 3, but clashes were widely expected to resume as the Islamist groups have not handed those accused of killing the Fatah general to the Lebanese judiciary, as demanded by a committee of Palestinian factions last month.

Lebanon is home to tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Many live in the 12 refugee camps that are scattered around the small Mediterranean country.


Lebanon: Four killed in fresh Palestinian clashes in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  September 9, 2023

Unresolved case of Fatah commander’s killing in July triggers new round of fighting between rival groups.

Four people were killed as clashes between Palestinian groups returned to a Lebanon refugee camp on Saturday, according to the official Lebanese National News Agency (NNA).

Small armed factions in Saida’s Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp exchanged fire on Thursday night with members of the dominant Fatah movement. 

A ceasefire was announced on Friday to end the fighting, which left at least 20 people wounded. 

However, heavy clashes returned to the camp alleyways on Saturday morning, killing a member of Fatah, a member of the Young Muslims group and a civilian, NNA reported.

It added that dozens of people have been wounded.

The latest violence comes more than a month after the same groups fought similar clashes, leaving 11 people killed and 40 others wounded.

Tensions in July spiked following the failed assassination attempt on a senior member of a local rival of Fatah, which controls security in the camp.

Abu Sharaf al-Armoushi, a senior Fatah commander in the camp, was killed along with four of his guards in what appeared to be a retaliatory ambush for the failed assassination attempt.

Subsequent clashes included the use of heavy machine guns, grenades and shoulder-fired missiles in the densely populated camp.

The Palestinian Joint Action Committee, an umbrella group including Palestinian factions in Lebanon, announced an end to the fighting after three days of clashes.

It also announced the creation of a committee to present those responsible for Armoushi’s death to justice, a measure that has not been enforced since. 

Ain al-Hilweh is located in Saida in southern Lebanon and is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the country. It houses a population of nearly 80,000 people who live in an area of just 1.5 sqkm.

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.

Clashes sometimes occur between Fatah and activists from small armed groups who control streets and neighbourhoods in the camp and who push Fatah activists back from some checkpoints in the area.


Lebanon: fighting calms after five killed at Palestinian refugee camp Ain al-Hilweh

 Nada Homsi

The National  /  September 9, 2023

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

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,” 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  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 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,” 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.

Nada Homsi is a correspondent at The National’s Beirut bureau