Clashes in Lebanon camp kill six Palestinians
SIDON: At least six people have been killed and dozens wounded in clashes in a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon, first responders said on Monday as fighting raged for a fifth day.
Violence broke out late on Thursday in the Ain al-Helweh camp on the outskirts of the coastal city of Sidon, just weeks after similar clashes pitted members of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah movement against Islamist militants.
The toll has risen to at least “six dead, one of them killed on Monday, and more than 70 wounded”, said Imad Hallak from the Palestinian Red Crescent’s Lebanon branch, revising an earlier figure of 60 wounded. The casualties include both fighters and civilians, he added.
Lebanon’s powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group urged a halt to the fighting.
Hezbollah calls for immediate ceasefire, expresses ‘deep regret’
“We call for an immediate ceasefire,” Hezbollah said in a statement on Monday, adding that the group expressed “deep regret” at the violence.
A correspondent in Sidon reported ongoing clashes with automatic gunfire and shelling, after fighting had subsided somewhat overnight. Bullets and shells fell outside the camp’s walls in past days, the correspondent said.
Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) said the city’s southern entrance was closed to traffic.
The NNA had reported on Saturday that three fighters and one civilian had been killed.
Ain al-Helweh is home to more than 54,000 registered refugees and thousands of Palestinians who joined them in recent years from neighbouring Syria, fleeing the civil war there.
The camp, Lebanon’s largest, was created for Palestinians who were driven out or fled during the 1948 war at the time of Israel’s creation.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said on Sunday that “hundreds of families have left the camp” since the clashes began.
Some 400 families were sheltering in a mosque, while others were taking refuge with relatives or in emergency shelters, it added in a report.
The Lebanese army said on Sunday that shells hit two military sites near the camp, “leaving five soldiers wounded, one of them in critical condition”.
By long-standing convention, the army stays out of the Palestinian camps and leaves the factions to handle security there.
In a statement on X, formerly Twitter, the army warned “the relevant parties inside the camp” against endangering military sites, adding that it would “take appropriate measures”.
Five days of clashes that began in late July left 13 people dead and dozens wounded, in the worst outbreak of violence in the camp in years.
That fighting erupted after the death of an Islamist militant, followed by an ambush that killed five Fatah members including a military leader.
Lebanon hosts an estimated 250,000 Palestinian refugees, according to the UN agency. Most live in Lebanon’s 12 official camps, and face a variety of legal restrictions including on employment.
Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2023