Conflict between the Palestinian Fatah faction and extremist groups, identified as Jund al Sham and Shabab al Muslim, began on July 29 at the Ein el-Hilweh camp in southern Lebanon. The violence was initially triggered by an unknown gunman’s attempt to kill Islamist militant Mahmoud Khalil and the subsequent successful assassination of Fatah official Abu Ashraf Al Armoushi August 3, Save the Children assessed that the clashes killed at least 13 people and displaced 20,000 residents, including an estimated 12,000 children.
Regional sources analyze the international responses to these clashes:
The National News reports that the violence emerged in response to the killing of Fatah official Abu Ashraf Al Armoushi and four of his bodyguards “in what the group called a ‘heinous assassination operation.’” According to a Fatah statement, the killing of Al Armoushi reflected an attempt by extremist groups to “pass external plans and agendas aimed at striking the state of stability and peace that the Palestinian camps in Lebanon are witnessing.”
A ceasefire was announced “on Monday afternoon after a meeting between Lebanese officials, security forces and Palestinian factions, but fighting continued afterward.” Notably, though, this is not the first failed ceasefire between factions. A local woman outside the camp told Al Jazeera: “‘We heard about a ceasefire on more than one occasion, but no side is holding to it. The situation is dire. Families are dispersed here and there. Security is totally absent inside.’”
Anadolu Agency explains that in Ein el-Hilweh “clashes among opposing factions are frequent.” Ein el-Hilweh “accommodates over 54,000 registered Palestinian refugees, often accompanied by numerous Palestinians seeking refuge from the Syrian conflict in recent times.” Security in Ein el-Hilweh is left up to factions within the camp.
Although Ein el-Hilweh security is handled internally, during the heat of the violence, Prime Minister Najib Mikati threatened to take the matter into the hands of the state and deploy the Lebanese Armed Forces. Gulf News iterates a phone call between Mikati and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in which Mikati cautioned “that Lebanese troops may intervene to stop the fighting that has left dozens dead and wounded.” Mikati “called the fighting a ‘flagrant violation of Lebanese sovereignty’ and said it was unacceptable for the warring groups to ‘terrorize the Lebanese, especially the people of the south who have embraced the Palestinians for many years.’”
After several GCC states issued travel warnings for Lebanon, however, members of the Lebanese government walked back in their assessment of the situation’s severity. Arab News reveals that “Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Germany and Britain updated their travel warnings” amid the violence in Ein el-Hilweh. A statement by the Saudi embassy “urged its citizens to leave Lebanon quickly and avoid areas where there have been armed clashes.” Germany “warned citizens not to travel to Palestinian camps in Lebanon, among other areas” and Britain “advised against ‘all but essential travel’ to parts of Lebanon’s south, including near Ain el-Hilweh.”
Lebanese Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said on Monday: “The violence that shook Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp has calmed down.” i24 News quotes Mawlawi as saying that “‘the security and intelligence services have no information that the situation could get out of control and spread to other camps.’”
The violence invoked a dire humanitarian situation. Many who fled the area had “no time to pack or prepare for displacement,” George Jreij, area manager for Save the Children told the Jerusalem Post. Some children were “separated from their parents and caregivers.” Other families “were too afraid to leave their homes even though their supplies of food and water were limited.”
Dorothee Klaus, Director of the UN Refugee Agency for Palestinian Refugees, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “‘We have not been able to enter the camp and deliver much needed assistance.’” A statement by UNRWA said “that 600 people displaced from the camp are staying in two of the agency's schools, in Sidon and in Mieh Mieh, another nearby camp.” If the situation continues, Dr. Riad Abu al-Einein, head of Al Hamshari Hospital near the camp, warned that “‘it will affect not only the families in the camp but all of the people in Sidon, especially as there were several rocket-propelled grenades and gunshots hit residential areas in the city.’”
(Image: MAHMOUD ZAYYAT / AFP)