09/14/2023, 12.22
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Clashes between factions in the West Bank, but people are dying in Ain al Hilweh

by Fady Noun

A journey through the Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon where violence has resumed in the last week with at least 18 dead and over a hundred injured. The fear of the people in an area of just 1.5 square kilometres where over 120,000 people live. The celebrations of the Greek Catholics for today's Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross were also suspended. Fear of the clashes spreading to other camps. The intervention of the Lebanese army has been ruled out for the moment.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Br. Antoine Assaf, rector of the great Greek-Catholic sanctuary of Our Lady of Al-Mantara in Maghdousha, a village south of Sidon, is saddened: the priest had to cancel all the festivities and masses on the occasion of the nativity of the Virgin Mary (8 September) and that of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross scheduled for today, 14 September, in the sanctuary dedicated to the mother of Jesus. "I made this decision reluctantly - he states - but I couldn't do otherwise".

The fighting that has been raging for a week between Palestinian factions inside the Ain al Hilweh refugee camp has, in fact, disturbed the atmosphere of this very busy space, with the risk of stray bullets being a source of great danger.

Words and fears justified by the facts, because not far from here, in Ghaziyé, about 2 km away from the port city, some bullets exploded at head height causing one death and two injuries.

In the village of Miyé-Miyé, south of Sidon, Francesca Francis, mother of six children, including a married Eastern Rite priest, leaves the house only out of real necessity. She doesn't want to take any more risks. The festival of the Cross, celebrated with a procession around the statue of the Virgin installed at an intersection on the main street of the village, has been cancelled.

To reach the center, the inhabitants no longer pass through Sidon but make a detour along secondary roads. At the moment, the fighting between the regular Fatah forces, which are part of the Palestinian Authority, and the Islamist groups, including men from the Islamic State (Daesh), have not yet caused any exodus, except for some residents of the camp. However, the situation remains delicate because we are talking about a narrow area, approximately 1.5 square km, and overcrowded due to the presence of over 120 thousand people.

The toll of the latest wave of violence, after a fragile grim that lasted a month, speaks of at least 18 dead and over a hundred injured, according to a toll provided by AFP.

Hundreds of families were forced to leave the camp and took refuge in the gardens and streets adjacent to the municipality of Sidon, as well as in a school and other spaces made available by private individuals. Most of these shelters were occupied by women and their young children.

Men, young people and individuals prefer to remain inside the camp, despite the overcrowding, discomfort and promiscuity experienced in temporary shelters.

An improvised "camp" of 35 tents hastily erected by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at the northern entrance to the city was dismantled following protests from some Sidonian political forces. The prospect of the embryo of a new, and future, Palestinian "camp" raised more than one alarm bell, although the ICRC staff had acted with the permission of the municipal administration.

Yesterday's fighting left five more injured, including ambulance drivers who were hit in the crossfire. At the beginning of the day, a grenade had fallen in the neighborhood where the buildings of the Lebanese University (UL) are located, causing the temporary closure of the institute where registrations for the 2023-2024 academic year are currently taking place.

The clashes between Fatah members and radical Islamist groups, which according to some are close to Iran and Hezbollah (an element which the party strongly denies), resumed after a brief pause during which two meetings took place: the first brought together around the same table were delegations from Fatah and the extremist movement Hamas, represented respectively by Azzam al-Ahmad for President Mahmoud Abbas, and by Hamas number two Moussa Abou Marzouk, at the Palestinian embassy in Beirut.

The second summit involved Azzam el-Ahmad himself and Lebanese civil and military officials. According to the official version, Hamas men did not participate in the fighting, but their authority and influence over the jihadist groups involved remains strong.

Beirut believes that these clashes are not unrelated to what is happening in the West Bank, where jihadist groups are emerging in the wake of increasingly brutal Israeli repression, with the aim of replacing a Palestinian Authority perceived as passive and corrupt. Violence erupted in August after the assassination of the security chief of the Ain al Hilweh camp, Abu Ashraf el-Armouchi, and three other Fatah members.

Appeals to hand over the perpetrators of this quadruple assassination to the Lebanese authorities have gone unheeded. “And they will remain so” says the journalist Rossella Haddad, who has a deep knowledge of the events taking place in the area.

Yesterday the Palestinian movement accused "external parties and security services", without mentioning them, of fanning the flames of discord, taking advantage of the collapse of Lebanese institutions and the uncontrolled infiltration of hundreds of Syrians into Lebanon through illegal channels.

However, the reporter excludes a possible involvement of the Lebanese army in these fighting, not only due to the high cost in terms of human lives, but also due to the agreements that entrust the security of the camp only to the Palestinian forces legitimated to do so.

Finally, it should be remembered that Lebanon itself has taken measures to avoid "an extension of the fighting to other refugee camps" scattered across the country of the cedars.

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