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Lebanon clashes kill six in Palestinian refugee camp

A Lebanese soldier takes cover at the entrance to Ain al-Helweh
— Sidon (Lebanon) (AFP)

At least six people were killed Sunday in clashes in south Lebanon's restive Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp, said Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement and a source at the camp.

The fighting between Fatah and Islamists in the camp, which erupted overnight and subsided by the evening, killed a Fatah military leader and four of his colleagues, the secularist movement said.

A Palestinian source inside the camp, speaking on condition of anonymity, said an "Islamist from the al-Shabab al-Muslim group" was also killed and six others including the group's leader were wounded.

Lebanon's official news agency NNA gave a "provisional toll" of six dead and more than 30 wounded at Ain al-Helweh, the largest of the 12 Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon located just southeast of the coastal city of Sidon.

NNA reported that stray bullets also damaged homes outside the camp.

Fatah in a statement confirmed the death of commander Ashraf al-Armouchi and four of his "comrades" during a "heinous operation".

Ain al-Helweh residents flee the fighting

The statement denounced an "abominable and cowardly crime" aimed at undermining the "security and stability" of the Palestinian camps in Lebanon.

A Lebanese soldier was also wounded, hit by shrapnel from "a mortar shell that fell in one of the military posts", the army said on Twitter, which is being rebranded as X.

His condition was reported as stable.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati in a statement called the timing of the clashes "suspicious in the current regional and international context".

Mikati criticised "repeated attempts to use Lebanon" as a battleground for the settling of outside scores "at the expense of Lebanon and the Lebanese".

"We urge the Palestinian leadership to cooperate with the army to control the security situation and deliver to the Lebanese authorities those who compromise it," his statement added.

- 'Red line' -

A ceasefire was agreed from 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) during a meeting of Palestinian factions including Fatah, also attended by members of the Lebanese Amal and Hezbollah movements, a joint statement afterwards said.

An AFP journalist reported that the sound of gunfire, which continued through Sunday afternoon, lessened in the evening.

The Palestinian presidency in a statement denounced the "heinous massacre and terrorist assassination" of the Fatah members.

Ain al-Helweh has become notorious as a refuge for extremists

"This crosses all red lines and undermines security in Lebanon," the statement said.

Fighting between rival groups is common in Ain al-Helweh, which is home to more than 54,000 registered Palestinian refugees who have been joined in recent years by thousands of Palestinians fleeing the conflict in Syria.

By long-standing convention, the Lebanese army does not enter Palestinian refugee camps in the country, leaving the factions themselves to handle security.

The camp has gained notoriety as a refuge for extremists and fugitives.

More than 450,000 Palestinians in Lebanon are registered with UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

Most live in one of the 12 official refugee camps, often in squalid conditions, and face a variety of legal restrictions, including on employment.