AP / July 30, 2023
At least seven injured after violence between Fatah and Islamists in Ain al-Hilweh camp.
At least six people have been killed after fighting broke out in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp near the southern port city of Sidon, Palestinian officials said on Sunday.
UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, put the death toll at six, and Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said two children were among seven people wounded at the Ain al-Hilweh camp.
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The Palestinian officials, speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said the fighting broke out after an unknown gunman tried to kill the Islamist militant Mahmoud Khalil, killing a companion instead.
Later, Islamist militants shot and killed a Palestinian military general from the Fatah group and three escorts as they were walking through a car park, another Palestinian official told AP.
Ain al-Hilweh is notorious for its lawlessness and violence is not uncommon. The UN says about 55,000 people live in the camp, which was established in 1948 to house Palestinians displaced by Israeli forces during the establishment of Israel.
On Sunday, factions fought with assault rifles, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
The fighting stopped for several hours in the morning, though state media said sporadic sniper fire remained, but it erupted again after the killing of the Palestinian general and his escorts.
Some people in Sidon living near the camp fled their homes as stray bullets hit buildings and shattered windows and storefronts. The public Sidon general hospital evacuated its staff and patients.
The Lebanese army said a mortar shell hit a military barracks outside the camp and wounded one soldier, whose condition is stable. Commandos were deployed near the camp’s entrances as clashes continued into the night.
UNRWA said two of its schools that serve about 2,000 students were damaged in the fighting. It said it suspended all its operations in Ain al-Hilweh.
Fatah condemned the killing of its security official, saying the attack was part of a “bloody scheme that targets the security and stability of our camps”. It vowed to hold the perpetrators accountable.
In Ramallah, the office of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, issued a statement decrying the violence.
“No one is allowed to intimidate our people and tamper with their security,” it said. “We support what the Lebanese government is doing to impose law and order, and we affirm our commitment to Lebanon’s sovereignty, including the Palestinian refugee camps, and maintaining security and the rule of law.”
Late in the day, the factions said in a joint statement that they had agreed to a ceasefire during a mediation meeting in Sidon hosted by the Lebanese political party the Amal movement and the militant group Hezbollah. But local media said fighting continued.
Lebanon’s prime minister, Najib Mikati, condemned the clashes: “We call on the Palestinian leadership to cooperate with the army to control the security situation and hand over those meddling with security to the Lebanese authorities.”