Reuters / September 12, 2023
BEIRUT – Ten people have been killed and dozens wounded in renewed violence between rival groups in a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon, with a senior Palestinian official flying in on Monday amid fears the bloodshed could spread.
The Ain al-Hilweh camp has been rocked by factional clashes since late July between the Palestinian mainstream movement Fatah and Islamist fighters. The first round left more than a dozen people dead.
Fighting resumed over the weekend after a month-long ceasefire and has since left at least 10 people dead, according to two Palestinian sources in the camp. Six of them were militants from Fatah and another two were Islamist fighters.
The two remaining victims were civilians, a Lebanese security source and two Palestinian sources said. One was killed on Saturday when a stray bullet from the clashes reached a town near the camp, the Lebanese security source said.
Five Lebanese army soldiers were also wounded, one of them critically, when shelling hit two of their positions on the outskirts of the camp on Sunday, according to an army statement.
Ain al-Hilweh is the largest of 12 Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, hosting around 80,000 of up to 250,000 Palestinians countrywide, according to the United Nation’s Palestine refugee agency (UNRWA). The camps date back as many as seven decades to neighbouring Israel’s founding in 1948.
The renewed violence has prompted fresh concerns that the clashes could spill over into the adjacent city of Sidon.
Residents fear a similar scenario to the northern Palestinian camp of Naher al-Bared, where Lebanon’s army waged a 15-week onslaught to dislodge Islamist groups in 2007.
A senior Fatah official is set to land in Lebanon on Monday and the acting chief of Lebanon’s powerful General Security intelligence agency will hold an emergency meeting on the issue.
UNRWA has said armed groups have taken over eight of their schools, forcing the agency to find alternatives to host students as the beginning of the school year nears.
Reporting by Maya Gebeily and Aziz Taher; editing by Mark Heinrich and Hugh Lawson