Four people, including a civilian, were killed on Saturday during clashes in the Aïn el-Heloué Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon, with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati criticizing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for the new violence .
Since Thursday evening, fighting has pitted Islamist groups against Fatah fighters, the main Palestinian organization, in this camp next to the city of Saida. Thirteen people had already died during similar clashes over several days at the end of July and beginning of August.
After a relatively calm night, fighting resumed on Saturday, according to an AFP correspondent in Saida who heard sounds of automatic weapons and rockets.
They caused the death of “two people from Fatah” and an Islamist, while a “civilian died after receiving a stray bullet” outside the camp, reported the official Lebanese news agency NNA , also reporting dozens of injuries.
A public hospital located next to the camp has transferred all its patients to other establishments due to the risk, its director, Ahmad al-Samadi, told AFP.
“What is happening does not at all serve the Palestinian cause and constitutes a serious offense to the Lebanese state” and the city of Saida, Mr. Mikati told Mr. Abbas in a telephone call, according to a statement from the office of the Lebanese Prime Minister.
Mr. Mikati stressed "the priority of ending military operations" and the need to "cooperate with the Lebanese security forces to resolve tensions", according to the press release posted on X (formerly Twitter).
The Lebanese army, which under an agreement does not deploy to Palestinian camps where security is provided by Palestinian factions, called on "all parties involved in the camp to stop the fighting."
She added that she was taking "the necessary measures (...) to put an end to the clashes which endanger the lives of innocent people".
Dozens of families have fled the camp since Thursday evening, taking bags filled with basic necessities such as bread, water and medicine, according to an AFP correspondent.
One camp resident, Mohammed Badran, 32, said he preferred to "sleep outside on the streets" with his wife and children rather than return home due to the fighting.
“It’s hell,” he said in a mosque in Saida where he found refuge with other families.
An AFP correspondent saw aid workers setting up tents outside the Saida municipal stadium to house other people displaced by the fighting.
“The municipality is cooperating with the Red Cross to set up 16 tents initially,” Mustafa Hijazi, a crisis unit manager at the municipality, told AFP.
“More would need to be installed to accommodate around 250 people,” he added.
The fighting focused on a school complex belonging to the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), a source within the camp management who spoke on condition of anonymity told AFP. .
The UN called on armed groups on Friday to “immediately” evacuate schools belonging to UNRWA.
Ain el-Heloue is the largest of 12 Palestinian camps in Lebanon that were established after the arrival of refugees forced into exodus during the First Arab-Israeli War, which began after the creation of Israel in 1948.
Some 54,000 refugees are crowded there, including radical Islamists and people wanted by the courts to escape the Lebanese authorities.
The violence that shook the camp at the end of July, for five days, was the most serious in years. They broke out following the death of a member of a small Islamist group, and five members of Fatah, including a military leader, were subsequently killed in an ambush.
Fatah, a historic Palestinian organization, remains the most powerful formation in Aïn el-Heloué but its influence is contested by the Islamist organizations of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
09/09/2023 23:46:38 - Saida (Lebanon) (AFP) - © 2023 AFP