Maureen Clare Murphy-14 April 2017
A neighborhood in Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon is now under the control of a Palestinian joint force after the routing of Islamist militants from the area.
Ten people are believed to have been killed and another 100 injured after fighting in the Tiri neighborhood erupted on Friday. The latest episode of violence in the camp comes after rounds of fighting left three dead in March and two dead in February.
Dozens of homes and shops were destroyed or damaged, and UNRWA, the United Nations Agency for Palestine refugees, suspended services in the camp.
Photos and video circulated on social media show some of the destruction in Ein al-Hilweh:
Other photos showed streets littered with bullet shells and fighters armed with rifles and grenade launchers:
More than two dozen families fled Ein al-Hilweh and took shelter in Mieh Mieh, another Palestinian camp in southern Lebanon, The Daily Star reported.
Schools and universities in the nearby city of Sidon were closed “due to the security situation,” the paper added. A hospital in the city was reportedly hit by a rocket.
The expelled fighters are followers of Bilal Badr, a wanted hardline militant who was living in the area and remains at large.
The fighters were pushed out by a force representing different Palestinian factions in the camp late Wednesday.
Badr is among a handful of militants wanted by the Lebanese government who have holed up in Ein al-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the country, in recent years. Badr is reported to have fled to another area of the camp.
Fatah, a Palestinian faction, has vowed to arrest Badr and turn him over to the Lebanese army.
The Palestinian factions in the densely populated and impoverished Ein al-Hilweh are under pressure to turn over to Lebanese security forces wanted Islamists who are hiding out in the camp. The camp is off-limits to Lebanese forces, who operate checkpoints to control movement in and out of Ein al-Hilweh.
There are persistent fears that Ein al-Hilweh may suffer the same fate as Nahr al-Bared, a Palestinian camp in the north of Lebanon that was systematically destroyed in 2007 following fighting between the Lebanese army and Islamist groups that had infiltrated the camp.
Palestinian refugees from Syria
The population of Ein al-Hilweh and other camps in Lebanon has surged in recent years with an estimated 31,000 Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria to the country.
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, who numbered approximately 450,000 before the influx of their counterparts from Syria, live on the margins, as they are effectively barred from practicing most professions.
Palestinians who come from Syria are in an even more precarious position as the Lebanese government has stopped renewing their visas. Lack of legal status means that many do not venture out of the refugee camps in which they are staying.
It was reported this week that fighters with a Jabhat al-Nusra offshoot in Yarmouk refugee camp, south of Damascus, reached an agreement with the Syrian government to evacuate to Idlib province in the north of the country.
Jabhat al-Nusra – al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria – had infiltrated the camp after it became an arena of conflict when the Syrian government bombed it in late 2012.