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With 20 wounded, Ain al-Hilweh clashes fuel Palestinian rivalries in Lebanon

The camp for Palestinian refugees has long been a scene of conflict, and a recent truce has been unable to stop clashes between Fatah and rival Islamists.
MAHMOUD ZAYAT/AFP via Getty Images

Clashes resumed in Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp on Thursday night in the latest instance of violence in the notorious camp for Palestinian refugees.

The fighting, which stretched into Friday, occurred between the Palestinian group Fatah and rival Islamists, leading to at least 20 injuries. Stray bullets struck parts of the nearby coastal city of Sidon, Lebanon’s official National News Agency reported.

Dozens of residents fled their homes in the northern end of the camp, where the fighting was concentrated, and some sheltered in a nearby mosque, Agence France-Presse reported.

The United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Lebanon, Imran Riza, said armed groups have taken over eight schools run by the United Nations' agency for Palestinian refugees, blocking access for 6,000 students about to begin the school year.

“I urge armed groups to stop the fighting in the camp and vacate these schools immediately,” said Riza, per the National News Agency.

Videos posted on social media showed fires and sounds of gunshots in the camp.

Ain al-Hilweh is home to around 50,000 refugees, descendants of Palestinians who were expelled or fled their homes during the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948 that led to Israel’s creation. Internal security is handled by a joint committee of Palestinian factions. Conditions in the camp are widely regarded as poor.

Why it matters: Clashes between Fatah and Islamist groups are a regular occurrence in the notorious camp. The most recent round of violence began in late July, when a Fatah member attempted to kill an Islamist fighter as revenge for an earlier death. Fatah commander Abu Ashraf al-Armoushi was then killed in an ambush.

The fighting that began in late July lasted several days and resulted in at least 13 deaths. A truce was reached on Aug. 3. However, clashes were expected to resume since Islamist factions have not handed over the accused killers of Armoushi to Lebanese authorities, according to the Associated Press.

The Lebanese army has no jurisdiction inside Palestinian refugee camps in the country per the 1969 Cairo Agreement signed between the Palestinian Liberation Organization, of which Fatah is a party, and Lebanon. The arrangement is a source of tension in Lebanon, as many in the country view the camps as hotbeds for militant activity.

In recent years, Syrian refugees have also come to reside in the camp.

Know more: The fighting is coinciding with tensions between Fatah and the Gaza-based Islamist rivals Hamas in the Palestinian territories. The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority is widely unpopular, leading to increasing support for Hamas.

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