11 killed as clashes in Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon continue

Hundreds of families have been displaced and many buildings have been damaged amid the clashes.

 Smoke rises from Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp during Palestinian faction clashes, in Sidon, Lebanon July 30, 2023 (photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)
Smoke rises from Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp during Palestinian faction clashes, in Sidon, Lebanon July 30, 2023
(photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)

11 people were killed and dozens more were injured as clashes continued for a second day in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon on Monday.

Hundreds of families have been displaced amid the clashes and, according to the Lebanese Al-Mayadeen TV, more than 40 apartments have been completely destroyed amid the clashes in the refugee camp.

Palestinian militants have fired mortars and RPGs toward each other in the crowded camp, with heavy machine gunfire being exchanged between various groups as well. Stray shells and bullets have reached outside the camp as well, according to Lebanese reports.

The clashes were sparked over the weekend after an unknown gunman tried to assassinate an Islamic militant, killing a companion of his instead.

The Associated Press reported that the Islamic militant targeted was Mahmoud Khalil, while Hamas official Ayman Shana stated on Monday that an official named Mahmoud Abu Qatada was targeted on Saturday by a Fatah-affiliated gunman named Muhammad Zubaidat and that a man named Abd al-Rahman Farhood was killed.

 A member of the Islamic Medical Association walks near residents who fled Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp after Palestinian faction clashes, outside in a mosque in Sidon, Lebanon July 30, 2023 (credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)
A member of the Islamic Medical Association walks near residents who fled Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp after Palestinian faction clashes, outside in a mosque in Sidon, Lebanon July 30, 2023 (credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)

Later, on Sunday, Islamic militants assassinated Fatah official Abu Ashraf al-Armoushi and four other Fatah members in the camp, sparking a further escalation in the clashes. According to Shana, the assassination occurred after an agreement reached to hand over Zubaidat was delayed.

On Monday, Fatah appointed Abu Iyad Shaalan to replace al-Armoushi as the commander of the Palestinian National Security in the Sidon region.

Amid the fighting on Sunday, a shell was fired toward a position belonging to the Lebanese Army near the camp, injuring a number of Lebanese soldiers. On Monday, an additional Lebanese soldier was injured amid the clashes, according to elNashra.

Dorothee Klaus, director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, stated on Monday that “In response to the urgent needs for shelter, UNRWA, with volunteers opened its schools to accommodate displaced families and is providing basic humanitarian assistance.  All UNRWA services in the camp have been temporarily suspended due to the violence. 

“UNRWA urgently calls on all parties to immediately return to calm and take all measures necessary to protect civilians, including children. We urge all armed actors to respect all UNRWA premises and facilities in accordance with international law.”

Lebanese, Palestinian officials continue attempts to reach a ceasefire

The parties involved in the clashes had reportedly agreed to a ceasefire organized in part by Popular Nasserist Organization movement leader Osama Saad on Monday morning, but the ceasefire was quickly broken and clashes renewed on Monday afternoon.

Saad called on the forces in the camp to stop the fighting immediately and to hand over all those involved in the assassination of al-Armoushi. Saad warned that "we must be aware of the dangers of what is happening, which may be a gateway to dangerous projects targeting the Palestinian cause in depth and targeting Lebanese national security and the security of the Palestinian people."

Saad additionally warned of "suspicious projects targeting the camp," stating "the Israeli enemy is waiting for us, and has an interest in detonating the situation."

Later on Monday afternoon, the Hezbollah-allied Amal Movement received a commitment from all the Palestinian factions in the camp that they would begin a ceasefire, although clashes were ongoing as of the afternoon, according to elNashra.

Maher Shabaita, the secretary of Fatah in the Saida region, told elNashra that the movement was demanding that the perpetrators of the assassination be handed over to Lebanese authorities.

Ihsan Ataya, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader in Lebanon, accused Israel of involvement in the clashes in Ain al-Hilweh, stating "it is clear that the Israeli and American apparatuses seek discord between the Palestinians and between the Palestinians and the Lebanese," according to Al-Mayadeen.

"When the Israeli enemy felt that the threat was strong in the West Bank, it set about igniting discord in the camp," added Ataya. According to the Islamic Jihad official, the factions have agreed on a ceasefire and the formation of an investigative committee.

The Association of Muslim Scholars in Lebanon also accused Israel of being involved in sparking the clashes, noting that the clashes began shortly after a visit by  Majed Faraj, the head of the Palestinian Authority's General Intelligence Service, and accusing Faraj of coordinating with Israeli security services.

The Hamas movement condemned the clashes in Ain al-Hilweh, stating that it was working with all the Palestinian factions and Lebanese authorities to contain the situation and prevent a further escalation.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke with the head of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, Samy Gemayel, on Monday. Gemayel stated that he stressed the need to disarm the refugee camps in the conversation with Abbas.

Earlier, during a meeting with US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, Gemayel called for the demilitarization of the camps and entry of the Lebanese Army into them.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati condemned the clashes in the camp, calling the timing of the clashes "suspicious" and warning against using Lebanese as an arena to "settle external scores at the expense of Lebanon and the Lebanese."

Mikati noted that the clashes broke out as the leaders of the Palestinian factions met in Cairo as part of efforts to resolve differences between the various factions. The prime minister called on Palestinian leaders to cooperate with the Lebanese Army and hand over all those responsible.

Israel's Permanent Representative to the UN Gilad Erdan responded to the clashes on Monday evening, tweeting "Where is the int’l outcry? Where is the Security Council’s emergency session? Where are the Secretary-General’s condemnations of Palestinian terror?"

"@antonioguterres, the world is waiting for your response," added Erdan. "Rather than working towards integrating Palestinian “refugees” into countries & their societies, @UNRWA preserves Palestinian refugee camps, and as a result perpetuates both the problem & the conflict."

250,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon

According to UNRWA, as many as 250,000 Palestinian refugees live in 12 refugee camps and dozens of villages in Lebanon, Palestinian refugees are refused citizenship, banned from working in 39 professions and owning real estate property.

The ongoing economic crisis in the country has hit Palestinian refugees even harder than most. 80% of Palestinian refugees in the country live in poverty. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon find it extremely difficult to obtain annual work permits that they are required to obtain and often work for lower pay than their Lebanese colleagues.

While Palestinian refugees have to pay into the National Social Security Fund, they are largely unable to access the benefits of the fund offered to Lebanese citizens.