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Palestinian joint force consolidates control of Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon

April 12, 2017 10:20 P.M. (Updated: April 13, 2017 12:35 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A Palestinian joint security force deployed in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon on Wednesday evening, taking over the neighborhood of al-Tira, which Islamist militants had previously controlled during recent deadly clashes.

Bilal Badr -- a hardline Islamist militant with alleged links to al-Qaeda who had been based in al-Tira -- and his group lost control of the perimeter of their stronghold on Monday, after two weeks of fighting with Palestinian factions killed at least eight people and injured scores.

According to official Palestinian news agency Wafa, Hamas representative in Lebanon Ani Baraka expressed appreciation for the joint forces’ progress in al-Tira, and credited its accomplishments to “God’s will first, and the sacrifices of martyrs, injured, and Lebanese official and popular support second.”

Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) reported on Wednesday that a “cautious calm” was prevailing in the refugee camp after heavy clashes in the morning injured a number of people and led to at least two homes catching fire.

Badr, meanwhile, was still reportedly on the run, a day after Palestinian factions agreed that the militant should be apprehended and his armed group disbanded once and for all.

The recent clashes have come as the latest episode in ongoing armed violence in Ain al-Hilweh that have left numerous Palestinians dead in recent months.

Badr and his followers are among a number of armed militants who have evaded Lebanese security forces and hidden in Palestinian refugee camps, whom PLO factions have long sought to expel from the camp.

The violence has been strongly condemned by UNICEF and UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for providing services to some five million Palestinian refugees, with UNRWA being forced to suspend its operations in the camp in a number of cases.

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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