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UN condemns violence in Lebanon refugee camp

Jan. 17, 2017 7:25 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 17, 2017 7:25 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for providing services to Palestinian refugees, condemned armed violence in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in Lebanon that left a number of civilians injured Sunday evening.

“Recurrent armed violence continues to impact the civilian population in the camp, including children,” UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness said in a statement Tuesday, adding that the shooting injured six people, including one child, “as well as shocking and frightening camp inhabitants.”

Among the wounded was an UNRWA staff member, who sustained serious injuries, though Gunness said that current information indicated he had not been deliberately targeted.

“UNRWA again calls on all those involved to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and the protection of Palestine refugees, particularly of children,” Gunness said, adding that the UN agency was “significantly concerned about the impact of ongoing armed violence and disturbances” taking place in the camp.

UNRWA documented that 5,452 children who attend schools run by the agency missed at least ten days of school over 2016, while two health centers in Ain al-Hilweh operated by UNRWA -- that serve an average of 1,100 people daily -- had been forced to close for seven days since December due to the violence.

A spike in armed violence in Ain al-Hilweh last month left two dead and at least five injured, with UNRWA suspending its operations in the camp as a result.

Lebanese news outlet the Daily Star at the time described the armed violence as a conflict between supporters of the Fatah movement and radical Islamist groups.

The camp has also been the site of recent confrontations between its Palestinian residents and the Lebanese army.

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 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.

Palestinians 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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