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Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon rocked by deadly clashes for 3rd day

Aug. 19, 2017 10:05 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 20, 2017 10:41 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Armed clashes between Palestinian forces and fighters affiliated to Islamist hardliner Bilal Badr raged on for the third consecutive day in the Palestinian Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp on Saturday, leaving at least two killed and several more injured.

Clashes erupted Thursday evening after gunmen led by Bilal Abu Arqub, a supporter of Badr, opened fire at members of the joint Palestinian force deployed in the camp, inside a local hall called the Said al-Yousif Social Center, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA).

The joint force reportedly responded with machine guns, rocket propelled grenades, and sniper fire.

After being injured in the clashes, Fatah movement member of the joint force Abu Ali Talal succumbed to his injuries in a hospital on Friday, while Abu Arqub’s son Ubayda was also killed. Some 11 others were injured, including two of his other sons, according to The Daily Star Lebanon.

A “cautious calm” was restored in the camp early Friday morning, as the joint force reportedly took control over Abu Arqub’s home, but were then targeted by a grenade that left one injured. Intermittent gunfire was also reported during Ubayda’s funeral, The Daily Star reported.

A local source told the news outlet that Palestinian political leadership brokered a ceasefire. However, the reported truce lasted mere hours, and fresh clashes broke out in the refugee camp on Saturday.

NNA reported that a bomb was detonated, while heavy fire rang out, as intermittent shelling was also ongoing as of Saturday evening, sparking widespread fires near the camp.

As of Saturday afternoon, the intensified clashes reportedly resulted in the death of another unidentified Fatah member and at least three additional injuries, according to NNA.

The fighting has forced dozens of Palestinian families to flee their homes.

Shortly after the Palestinian joint force was first deployed, aimed at ridding the camp of Badr fighters, violent clashes broke out for days in April, leaving at least 10 killed and rendering numerous buildings uninhabitable.

Badr, wanted by Lebanese authorities on numerous charges, has since reportedly disappeared into hiding.

By longstanding convention, the Lebanese army does not enter Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, leaving Palestinian factions to handle security themselves.

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.
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