Clashes resumed in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp overnight, with heavy gunfire and shelling wounding at least 20 people and prompting residents of the camp and the surrounding area to flee on Friday.
There had previously been several days of street battles in the Ein el-Hilweh camp between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement and Islamist groups after Fatah accused the Islamists of gunning down one of their military generals on July 30. Those street battles left at least 13 dead and dozens wounded, and forced hundreds to flee from their homes.
An uneasy truce has been in place since Aug. 3, but clashes were widely expected to resume as the Islamist groups have not handed over the accused killers of the Fatah general, Mohammad “Abu Ashraf” al-Armoushi to the Lebanese judiciary as demanded by a committee of Palestinian factions earlier this month.
A committee of Palestinian factions in Ein el-Hilweh announced on Tuesday that their joint security forces would launch raids in search of the accused killers.
Maher Shabaita, head of Fatah in the Sidon region, told The Associated Press that the Islamist groups had launched an attack Thursday night in an attempt to forestall plans by Palestinian forces to clear militants out of schools they had been occupying in the camp.
By late morning Friday, the fighting had at least temporarily subsided.
The state-run National News Agency reported 20 people were wounded, including an elderly man, and transported to hospitals overnight. Shabaita said the wounded included three civil defense volunteers who came under shelling as they were working to extinguish fires.
There were no immediate reports of deaths. The public Lebanese University announced it would close its branches in the city of Sidon, which is adjacent to the camp, and postpone scheduled exams in light of the fighting.
Officials with the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, could not immediately give information on the number of casualties or displaced.
UNRWA appealed last week for $15.5 million to repair infrastructure damaged in the last round of clashes in the camp, provide alternative education locations for children whose schools were damaged or occupied by militants, and give cash assistance to people who have been displaced from their homes.