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Jund al-Sham militants 'control third' of Lebanon refugee camp

Aug. 31, 2015 1:21 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 31, 2015 7:28 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A Fatah official in Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp said Monday that the Jund al-Sham militant group has control over four of the camp's 11 districts following recent fighting between armed groups.

"What is happening mirrors the state of things in the country," Munir Makdah, a Fatah official in Ain al-Hilweh camp, told Ma'an. "They aim to destroy the camp and force the Palestinian refugees to leave Lebanon, as happened to the Palestinians in Syria."

He alleged: "There is an Israeli-American plan through both internal and external groups to destabilize the camp."

The population of Ain al-Hilweh camp in southern Lebanon has swelled after thousands of Palestinian refugees fled Syria's brutal war.

Syria's largest refugee camp, Yarmouk, was devastated after anti-regime militant groups, including al-Nusra Front fighters, took up positions inside the camp causing the Syrian army to set up a brutal siege.

Makdah said there are now more than 100,000 refugees living in the camp, cramped into less than two square kilometers, although the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, gives a more conservative estimate of 61,000.

Makdah said that Jund al-Sham had now overrun four of the camp's 11 districts, which were formerly run by committees representing the camp's Palestinian factions.

"There is an arrangement with the committees which controlled the 11 districts that starting Monday they will adopt a new policy that says that anyone who fires gunshots will be handed over to the security forces, which represent 17 factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad," he said.

Recent days have seen fierce clashes across the camp, leaving a number dead on each side.

Makdah said that the fighting had caused the displacement of many families to the nearby city of Sidon, and had resulted in damage to buildings costing in excess of $1 million.

For a number of Palestinians, he said that it was the second time they had been displaced after gun clashes broke out one year ago.

Makdah sought to dismiss Jund al-Sham, claiming it was "not a real danger" because it has no wider support network inside the camp.

However, Fathi Abu Ardat, another Fatah official in Lebanon said: "Fighting the Islamist extremists would be easier of they were not hiding in heavily populated neighborhoods and between civilians."

In addition to Ain al-Hilweh's security situation, the camp also suffers severe poverty and high levels of unemployment.

The impoverished camp has gained notoriety as a refuge for extremists and fugitives and for the settling of scores between factions.

By long-standing convention, the Lebanese army does not enter the Palestinian refugee camps, leaving the factions themselves to handle security.

The camp is among 12 located in Lebanon that were built for Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes during and after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
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