Last Friday, new reports of fresh fighting between Palestinian rival factions resumed leaving twenty wounded in Lebanon’s Ein El Hilweh refugee camp. Immediately afterward, there was a precarious ceasefire that many hoped would permanently end the violence. However, so far, it has continued.
Residents of the camp and those living on its periphery were forced to flee for their own safety. This new wave of clashes between the Fatah movement led by Mahmoud Abbas and Islamist organizations under the umbrella of “Muslim Youth” have caused fear that the unrest could spill out into the city of Saida itself. The Lebanese army is manning checkpoints outside of the camp, but it’s not permitted to enter as part of an agreement with Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA).
The PA is supposed to oversee all security matters in the camp. However, as the situation has become more dangerous, whether the PA is up to the task of returning calm for the 54,000 registered Palestinians who call the camp home has come into question.
The Ein El Hilweh camp was originally founded in 1948 when Palestinians fled for their safety after the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel. Since then, Palestinians in Lebanon have been stateless and denied the freedom to travel anywhere they like or engage in specific economic activities. This renewed round of clashes is raising fears of additional, open-ended intra-Palestinian violence.
Because the fighting remains intense and there are no signs of it slowing down, it’s difficult to assess how many lives have been lost so far. The number ranges between four to thirteen dead, with dozens injured. A number of Lebanese soldiers have also been injured by explosions falling across their positions near the camp.
In a statement, the Lebanese Army declared that “5 soldiers were wounded when 3 shells fired from inside Ain El Hilweh landed near their positions at the entrance of the Palestinian refugee camp—one of the Palestinian refugee camp—one of the soldiers is in critical condition.”
As of now, there is no action being taken by the Lebanese army to enter the camp and engage in hostilities. Nevertheless, if the violence spirals further out of control and more Lebanese soldiers or civilians are killed, will it force the army to intervene?
Adding another layer of complexity, Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip and the largest rival to Abbas’s Fatah, is believed to be supporting the “Muslim Youth” forces in Ein El Hilweh. The press office of Hamas in Lebanon has categorically denied all claims that it is supporting any groups in the camp.
"We reject these empty and fake claims that contradict our policies and beliefs, and we consider them a new-fangled attempt to distort the image of Hamas Movement and the Palestinian resistance," said Hamas.
Hamas continued to say that it has cooperated with all appropriate Lebanese security forces and the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon to aid a return to stability and peace. Unfortunately, the people of Ein El Hilweh are experiencing anything but tranquility and order.
Adnan Nasser is an independent foreign policy analyst and journalist with a focus on Middle East affairs. Follow him on Twitter @Adnansoutlook29.