Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati has threatened to send in the Lebanese army to the country’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, where fighting in recent days has killed more than a dozen people, wounded many more and displaced thousands.
In a phone call, Mikati urged the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas to ensure hostilities between Palestinian factions at the Ein el-Hilweh camp cease.
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Mikati called the clashes a “flagrant violation of Lebanese sovereignty” and said that it was unacceptable for the groups to “terrorise the Lebanese, especially the people of the south who have embraced the Palestinians for many years”, according to a statement released by his office.
The fighting near the southern port city of Sidon has been going on since Sunday, but there was some calm on Thursday.
Abbas’s Fatah party has accused the armed groups Jund al-Sham and Shabab al-Muslim of gunning down a Fatah military general, Abu Ashraf al-Armoushi, in the camp.
People have fled to nearby mosques and schools to escape the violence.
“We are tired of all of this,” said Mohamed Sabakh, an Ein el-Hilweh resident staying in one such mosque with his family. “We have children.”
Even outside the camp, stores and roads are closed, trapping people, Sabakh also said.
Dorothee Klaus, director of the United Nations refugee agency for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA, in Lebanon said Thursday that 600 people displaced from the camp are staying in two of the agency’s schools, in Sidon and in another nearby camp, Mieh Mieh.
“We have not been able to enter the camp and deliver much-needed assistance,” she said, adding that nearly 360 of UNRWA’s staff live there, some still trapped and one injured in the clashes.
A ceasefire agreement reached Monday was broken by the armed groups when they attacked one of Fatah’s centres in the camp, part of a “project to destroy the camp and transform the camp into a camp of militants, possibly a camp of terrorists”, said Maher Shabaita, head of Fatah in the Sidon region.
Palestinian factions in Ein el-Hilweh have formed an investigative committee to figure out who was responsible for al-Armoushi’s killing, and will hand them over to the Lebanese judiciary for trial, he said.
Ein el-Hilweh is one of 12 camps established in Lebanon in 1948 for Palestinian refugees after Israel was created.
Following a 1969 agreement between Lebanon and the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Lebanese army largely avoids entering the camps, but some Lebanese officials have called for the army to take control of them in the wake of the recent clashes.
Ein el-Hilweh, home to about 50,000 people, has seen many bouts of violence over the decades, both interfactional fighting, as well as between Palestinian factions and Lebanese forces.