A United Nations agency has suspended services at the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon to protest against the presence of armed fighters around its four schools and other facilities within the area.
Deadly clashes broke out at the Ein el-Hilweh camp last month after a gunman from the hardline Junud al-Sham armed group tried to assassinate Mahmoud Khalil, a leader of the Palestinian political faction, Fatah, forcing hundreds to flee.
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Khalil’s companion, Fatah commander Abu Ashraf al-Armouchi was fatally shot and several of his aides were killed. Al-Armouchi was in charge of security inside Ein el-Hilweh.
The camp is home to more than 63,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants, who were forcibly displaced from their homes in 1948 in the run-up to Israel’s creation.
“The agency does not tolerate actions that breach the inviolability and neutrality of its installations,” United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said in a statement.
It said that schools in the camp were unlikely to be available for 3,200 children at the start of the new school year.
“UNRWA reiterates its call on armed actors to immediately vacate its facilities, to ensure unimpeded delivery of much-needed assistance to Palestine refugees,” the agency added.
More than a dozen people were killed in the fighting, and thousands of others were displaced.
Following a 1969 agreement between Lebanon and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Lebanese army largely avoids entering the camps, but Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister had earlier this month threatened to send in the country’s army to Ein el-Hilweh if the clashes continued.
Dorothee Klaus, the director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, said UNRWA facilities have been damaged by the recent fighting in the camp.
“All UNRWA facilities, including schools, must be protected at all times,” she said in a statement. “Schools are meant to be a sanctuary for children and zones of peace where children learn and play. They must never be used for armed conflict, clashes, violence and fighting.”
Some 400,000 refugees live in Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian camps.
Established in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli War, UNRWA provides public services including schools, primary healthcare and humanitarian aid in the Israeli-occupied territories of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, as well as the neighbouring countries of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.