In a tragic turn of events over the weekend, the Ein el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon witnessed a deadly outbreak of violence that resulted in the deaths of six people. The clashes, which erupted between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement and rival Islamist groups, have heightened tensions in the region. Established in 1948, Ein el-Hilweh is the largest refugee camp in Lebanon, accommodating over 63,000 registered refugees.
Nestled near the southern city of Sidon, the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp is unique in its governance, as it falls outside the jurisdiction of Lebanese security forces. Instead, rival factions within the camp shoulder the responsibility of maintaining security, a delicate arrangement that often leads to factional disputes. Over the years, such conflicts have become tragically common, leaving innocent lives caught in the crossfire.
The recent violence began on Saturday when a member of the Islamist al-Shabab al-Muslim group was killed, sparking further tensions. As hostilities escalated, the violence extended into Sunday, resulting in the death of a Fatah commander, Ashraf al-Armouchi, and four of his aides. Fatah, in response, condemned the “abominable and cowardly crime” and vowed to protect the security of Palestinian camps in Lebanon. Lebanese soldiers were also injured during the clashes, adding to the gravity of the situation.
UNRWA’s Suspension of Operations
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had to suspend all operations in the camp due to the violence. Dorothee Kraus, the director of UNRWA in Lebanon, pleaded with militant parties to ensure civilians’ safety and respect the inviolability of UN premises. As more than 479,000 refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, these camps, including Ein el-Hilweh, suffer from dire living conditions, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis.
Long-standing Tensions and Root Causes
The clashes at Ein el-Hilweh are not isolated incidents but rather a manifestation of long-standing tensions and historical grievances among various Palestinian factions. The absence of a stable political solution, coupled with the challenging living conditions in the camp, has fueled radicalization and hostility among groups vying for dominance. Ein el-Hilweh’s complex security dynamics and its exclusion from Lebanese security forces’ jurisdiction have further complicated the situation.
As the dust settles and a fragile ceasefire takes hold, the tragedy at Ein el-Hilweh serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for a comprehensive resolution to the Palestinian refugee crisis. The international community must intensify efforts to address the root causes and promote peace in the region to prevent further loss of innocent lives.