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Clashes continue for 3rd consecutive day in Lebanon's Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp

April 9, 2017 12:41 P.M. (Updated: April 9, 2017 9:51 P.M.)
LEBANON (Ma’an) -- Armed clashes in Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp continued to rage on as of Sunday morning, having left at least five dead and dozens more injured since Friday.

Lebanese news sites reported that after a new joint Palestinian force deployed in the camp, Islamist militants led by Bilal Badr -- who has alleged links to al-Qaeda and lives in the camp’s al-Tira neighborhood -- attacked members of the new security force with live fire and shelling, sparking clashes.

Badr and his followers are among non-Palestinian militants who reside in the Palestinian refugee camp, which also include Lebanese fugitives wanted by Lebanese security forces, that PLO factions have long sought to expel from the camp.

As of Saturday morning, one member of the joint Palestinian forces and a member of the Fatah were declared dead, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA).

Clashes caused a major fire Saturday night, resulting in the injury of at least one person.

The joint Palestinian force advanced further into al-Tira on Sunday morning, with NNA reporting as of Sunday afternoon that five had been killed and 37 other injured. It remained unclear whether the five were in addition to the two individuals declared dead Saturday, or if five men had been killed in total during the three-day period.

Three missiles were fired from inside Ain al-Hilweh, with one landing at Saida governmental hospital, another in the Taamir area, and one in Siroub area, without causing injuries. A number of houses also caught fire, NNA reported Sunday morning.

Popular committees in camp called for a truce and demanded that civilians be evacuated, as Palestinians remained besieged inside their houses amid the violence.

The Fatah movement in Lebanon said in statement that all Palestinian factions in the camp have faced “suspicious plans” by those seeking to weaken security in the camp, spread conflict and disorder, and threaten national unity.

The statement called for all factions to unite in order to put an end to the violence and ongoing daily struggles in the camp, “which only benefit the Israeli occupation.” Fatah further noted that “killing innocent people and terrorizing civilians will negatively affect the relationship between the camp and Lebanon.”

The statement also warned that there was “no way out” for Bilal Badr, and called on him to turn himself into Lebanese security and allow the Palestinian joint forces to take control and restore security in the camp, as part of a security plan agreed upon by the Lebanese army and Palestinian factions.

During a meeting between Palestinian factions to broker a ceasefire after deadly clashes erupted in February, a plan to re-form a joint Palestinian security force among the factions was also established.

The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) also condemned the aggression on Palestinian joint forces in a statement Sunday, and called upon all factions to stand with the joint force to put an end to the unrest.

The clashes came as the latest episode in ongoing armed violence in Ain al-Hilweh that have left numerous Palestinians dead in recent months.

The violence has been strongly condemned by UNICEF and UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for providing services to some five million Palestinian refugees, with UNRWA being forced to suspend its operations in the camp in a number of cases.

The largest and most crowded refugee camp in Lebanon, Ain al-Hilweh is home to some 54,116 registered refugees who fled their villages during the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, according to the UN.

However, the population has significantly increased since 2011 as a result of the Syrian war, as Palestinians have been displaced a second time from refugee camps across Syria, with development nonprofit organization Anera estimating the camp's population to be closer to 120,000.

According to UNRWA, Ain al-Hilweh suffers from high rates of poverty and poor housing conditions, which have been further stressed as a result of overcrowding in recent years.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have the highest percentage of their population living in abject poverty from among the other countries the organization serves, according to UNRWA.

Facing discriminatory employment policies, Palestinians in Lebanon are restricted from working in over 20 professions or claiming the same rights as other non-citizens in Lebanon, while all the refugee camps suffer from overcrowding, poor housing conditions, and a lack of infrastructure.
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