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Ceasefire reached in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp after night of armed fighting

Aug. 20, 2017 10:41 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 20, 2017 5:33 P.M.)
(File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- After a night of armed clashes in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in southern Lebanon left one dead and five injured, Palestinian leadership agreed to a ceasefire, restoring a cautious calm to the camp Sunday morning, according to Lebanese media reports.

Fighting has been ongoing since Thursday when fighters led by Bilal Abu Arqub, a supporter of Islamist hardliner Bilal Badr, opened fire at the joint Palestinian force responsible for providing security in the camp.

According to Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) the clashes have left a total of three people killed and at least 17 injured as of Sunday morning.

NNA reported that clashes has intensified in the camp Saturday night, as Palestinian leadership held an urgent meeting, deciding to call a ceasefire and return their forces to their previous locations.

Heavy machine gun fire and mortar shelling in the camp caused houses to catch on fire, according to NNA, which reported that one person was killed and five others injured overnight, without providing further details on their identities.

Dozens of Palestinian families have fled their homes to escape the fighting.

In a statement quoted by NNA, Palestinian leadership expressed their rejection to the instability and lack of security in the camp, and condemned the violence for upending “Palestinian-Lebanese brotherly relations,” stressing that the assailants would be apprehended and turned over to the joint forces.

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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