Hezbollah chief urges halt to Palestinian camp clashes in Lebanon

Nasrallah warns of ‘repercussions’ of continuing factional infighting in Ein el-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon’s south.

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A woman is being pushed in a wheelchair as she leaves the Ein el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp during Palestinian faction clashes, in Sidon, Lebanon [Aziz Taher/Reuters]

The head of the powerful armed group Hezbollah has called for a halt to days of deadly clashes that have raged between rival factions in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh in southern Lebanon.

At least 11 people have been killed in the camp since fighting broke out on Saturday between mainstream faction Fatah and the Junud al-Sham group.

“This fighting must not continue because its repercussions are bad – for the camp’s residents, for the dear Palestinian people … for the south, for all of Lebanon,” Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address on Tuesday.

The United Nations agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) said at least 2,000 people have fled their homes in the camp and UNRWA activities were suspended due to the violence.

Local media reported that more than 40 people, including children, have been wounded in the camp near the port city of Sidon.

Mohammed Baba, a paramedic, told Al Jazeera it has been “very difficult to reach the wounded and the sick because of the fighting”.

“There are a lot of homes that have been damaged and destroyed. There are many children that are caught in the crossfire,” he said.

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A member of the Islamic Medical Association walks near residents who fled Ein el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp after Palestinian faction clashes, outside a mosque in Sidon, Lebanon [Aziz Taher/Reuters]

Negotiations between the rival factions have led to brief suspensions of fighting but have failed to secure a lasting ceasefire, with heavy clashes resuming on Tuesday.

Hezbollah, which controls southern Lebanon and is vehemently opposed to Israel, has ties to Palestinian factions and supports their cause.

Nasrallah on Tuesday said anyone who could “pressure, say a word, make contact, make an effort” to secure a truce should do so.

The violence broke out when an unknown gunman attempted to kill a member of an armed group named Mahmoud Khalil, but instead shot and killed his companion.

In the confrontations that ensued, Fatah commander Abu Ashraf al-Armouchi – who was in charge of security inside the camp – and several of his aides, were killed.

‘A terrifying life’

The Palestinian presidency denounced what it described as a “heinous massacre” against one of its Fatah members.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from the outskirts of Ein el-Hilweh, said, some people were trapped for a day or two before escaping the fighting.

“It was very difficult to leave the camp,” she said.

Factions within the camp have used assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and lobbed hand grenades in Ein el-Hilweh’s narrow streets.

“The sound of gunfire, the sound of rocket fire, it has been constant,” Khodr said. “Many people told us they left barefoot and now they’re living in the streets, outside mosques.”

Palestinians living in camps across Lebanon live in dire conditions and under a variety of legal restrictions as they’re unable to work in many professions.

“What they’ve been telling us is that this cannot keep going on,” Khodr said. “Even if there is a ceasefire, there is a lack of unity among Palestinian factions – they’re struggling for power, they’re struggling for dominance and every now and then, there are bouts of violence.”

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Residents who fled Ein el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp after Palestinian faction clashes, rest in a mosque in Sidon, Lebanon [Aziz Taher/Reuters]

UNRWA estimates that up to 250,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian camps which were established in the aftermath of the 1948 Nakba, which means “catastrophe”.

Ein el-Hilweh is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, and like all of the other camps, is densely populated.

It has been the scene of violent infighting between Palestinian factions over decades, as well as fighting between factions and the Lebanese army.

During Lebanon’s civil war, the camp was repeatedly bombarded by Israeli warplanes, virtually flattening most its structures.

The camps mainly lie outside the jurisdiction of Lebanese security services and internal security matters are left in the hands of factions inside.

Subhiyeh Saleh, a displaced Palestinian child, said, “We live a terrifying life because they always keep clashing with each other. This is not the first time – grenades always land on our roofs.”

Meanwhile, Nasrallah also ramped up his rhetoric on Tuesday against those burning copies of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, in Denmark and Sweden in recent weeks, saying the weak response from Muslim states had left believers wanting.

“There is no longer any meaning to waiting for anyone. You must take up this responsibility and punish these damned people with the strongest punishment,” Nasrallah said.

Hezbollah was founded in 1982 with Iranian assistance to resist the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and has been classified by the United States and other Western countries as a “terrorist” organisation.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies