At least 10 people have been reportedly killed and dozens of others injured in renewed clashes between rival groups in a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon over the past days.
After a month-long shaky ceasefire, the violence broke out on Thursday between affiliated members of Fatah movement and armed groups in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in the Lebanese southern city of Sidon.
Fierce clashes continued for a fifth day on Monday between the rival Palestinian groups at the camp with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
Palestinian sources in the camp were cited by local media as saying that the violence has so far claimed the lives of at least 10 people from both sides. Six of them were from Fatah and another two were armed militants.
The two remaining victims were civilians, a Lebanese security source and two Palestinian sources said. One was also killed on Saturday when a stray bullet from the clashes reached a town near the camp, a Lebanese security source said.
Five Lebanese army soldiers were also reported wounded, one of them critically, when shelling hit three of their positions on the outskirts of the camp on Sunday, raising to 86 the number of injuries in the renewed clashes between the rival groups at the camp.
In a statement, the Lebanese Army’s General Directorate said the injured soldiers were transferred to a nearby hospital for treatment and warned against the consequences of targeting army positions.
تعيد قيادة الجيش تحذير الأطراف المعنية داخل المخيم من مغبّة تعريض المراكز العسكرية وعناصرها للخطر، وتؤكد أنّ الجيش سيتخذ الإجراءات المناسبة. ٢/٢#الجيش_اللبناني #LebaneseArmy pic.twitter.com/EiZdBL5BPq
— الجيش اللبناني (@LebarmyOfficial) September 10, 2023
Ain el-Hilweh, established in 1948, is the largest of 12 Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, hosting around 80,000 of up to 250,000 Palestinians countrywide, according to the United Nation’s Palestine refugee agency (UNRWA).
The first round of violence erupted in late July when an unknown gunman attempted to kill a member of an armed group named Mahmoud Khalil, but fatally shot his companion instead. In the confrontations that ensued, Abu Ashraf al-Armouchi, a senior commander with the Fatah movement, who was in charge of security inside Ain al-Hilweh, was killed along with several of his aides.
On August 6, a ceasefire subsided the fighting but heavy confrontations sporadically resumed afterwards and left more than a dozen people dead.
UNRWA said over 2,000 people have been forced to flee since the beginning of the clashes in the camp in late July.
Hamas denies backing armed groups in Ain al-Hilweh
In a statement on Monday, the press office of the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas dismissed reports claiming that the movement, alongside Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, was backing the gunmen fighting in the refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh.
“We reject these void and fake claims that contradict our policies and beliefs, and we consider them a newfangled attempt to distort the image of Hamas movement and the Palestinian resistance,” the statement said.
“Since day one of the incidents, we have worked with all the Palestinian and Lebanese factions and forces, in addition to the Lebanese security apparatuses and the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, to cease fire and preserve the camp, its residents, and the Lebanese neighborhood,” the movement added.
The Palestinian resistance movement underlined, “These claims are totally untrue, and they only serve the Israeli occupation and the enemies of the Resistance.”
Local media reports said a senior Fatah official is set to land in Lebanon on Monday and that the acting chief of Lebanon’s General Security intelligence agency will hold an emergency meeting on the latest round of clashes in the Palestinian camp.