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UNICEF, UNRWA condemn violence in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp

March 1, 2017 5:12 P.M. (Updated: March 1, 2017 8:24 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Lebanon representative of UNICEF and the the director of UNRWA in Lebanon released a joint statement on Wednesday condemning the recent armed violence in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, which on Tuesday left an 18- and 12-year-old Palestinian dead, while at least eight others were injured -- including a pregnant woman.

The statement said that the two groups were “deeply concerned” that ongoing violence would result in further civilian casualties, including children, noting that an UNRWA employee was injured in the violence, which erupted Monday between Fatah members and Islamic factions in the camp.

Clashes began Monday evening, when a bomb detonated in front of a call center inside the 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.

“As a result of the violence, most of the education, health and other services in the camp have been suspended. In addition, three United Nations schools have also been entered and used by armed actors in breach of the inviolability of UN premises and in violation of children's’ rights under international law,” the statement said.

UNICEF and UNRWA estimated that the violence has prevented some 5,200 UNRWA students “from enjoying their right to education.”

The groups called on all involved in the violence to “respect the sanctity of human life and to ensure the protection of Palestine refugees and other residents of the camp” and to cease hostilities. 

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 Palestinian embassy.

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 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.

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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