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Ceasefire declared in Ain al-Hilweh, after 2 young Palestinians confirmed dead

Feb. 28, 2017 2:55 P.M. (Updated: March 1, 2017 5:07 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- An 18-year-old Palestinian was pronounced dead Tuesday afternoon after a 12-year-old boy succumbed to injuries earlier that morning, while at least eight others were injured -- including a pregnant woman -- amid armed clashes between Fatah members and Islamic factions in the Palestinian refugee camp Ain al-Hilweh in Lebanon, which began overnight Monday night and continued into Tuesday afternoon.

Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) reported after 4 p.m. Tuesday that a ceasefire agreement was brokered during a meeting between PLO factions and nationalist and Islamist forces at the Palestine Embassy.

However, shortly after the ceasefire was declared, NNA reported that a pregnant woman, identified as Mariam Aweid, was wounded as a result of the clashes, raising the casualty toll to one dead and three wounded over the course of the day, in addition to one dead and one wounded in the early morning.

Clashes began Monday evening, when a bomb detonated in front of a call center inside camp, breaking a “cautious calm” that had prevailed after Palestinian factions reached a ceasefire agreement Sunday night to halt violent clashes that erupted over the weekend.

Tensions continued to rise, with NNA reporting intermittent hand grenades, shooting, and sniper fire overnight.

The agency said at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday that one was wounded by a sniper bullet inside the camp, and shortly after that, a child was critically wounded and transferred to al-Rai hospital following reports of a missile explosion and an intensification of sniper fire.

At around 10:44 a.m., NNA confirmed that the child had succumbed to his injuries.

The local Arabic-language Facebook page “Friends of Ain al-Hilweh Refugee Camp” identified the boy as 12-year-old Arafat Mustafa. The group quoted a statement by regional organization the Arab Network for Children's Rights, saying that Arafat was a student at the UNRWA-run Safad school. Activists on the page also said the boy was the son of a Fatah militant within the Palestinian national security forces in the camp.
12-year-old Arafat Mustafa (Photo: Friends of Ain al-Hilweh Refugee Camp)

NNA also confirmed on Tuesday morning the injury of another man by a sniper bullet, who was identified by Friends of Ain al-Hilweh as UNRWA employee Ziyad al-Ali.

The clashes mid-morning caused a fire at al-Farouq mosque in the camp, driving a number of families to leave their houses and forcing schools to close for the day.

By midday, NNA reported continuing missile fire as residents of the camp were being forcibly displaced from areas of the camp -- along al-Fawqani street in the al-Safsaf neighborhood in particular -- due to the clashes.

After 2 p.m. the Lebanese army carried out "security measures" at the entrance to the camp, closing off the eastern highway running beside it after sniper bullets were reported there, which resulted in the injury of one Palestinian, while a shop also was set on fire.

NNA said by 2:15 pm that the number of injuries since morning had risen to three, one of which which succumbed to his wounds at Hamshari hospital in Sidon shortly after.

The slain Palestinian was identified as 18-year-old Maher Ahmad Dahsheh.

An hour later, NNA reported that clashes between Islamic groups and Fatah members were increasing, as rockets were heard in the Sidon area, adding that a meeting was taking place at the Palestinian Embassy among factions to stop the clashes, which resulted in the ceasefire. Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon Ashraf Dabbour notably attended the meeting.

However, shortly after the ceasefire was declared, NNA reported that a pregnant woman, identified as Mariam Aweid, was wounded.

In a statement released after the ceasefire was announced, conferees of the meeting stressed that "(refugee) camps shall not be a base or a hub for any individual or group which wants to tamper with the Lebanese and Palestinian security."

A delegation from the Embassy is scheduled to head to the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh to put ceasefire into effect.

Last month, UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for providing services to Palestinian refugees, condemned armed violence in the Palestinian refugee camp, after a number of civilians were killed by live fire during clashes.

A spike in armed violence between Fatah supporters and Islamist groups in Ain al-Hilweh in December left two dead and at least five injured, with UNRWA suspending its operations in the camp as a result.

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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