The violence erupted on Thursday night, when members of the Fatah movement, loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, exchanged fire with Islamist militants affiliated with the Bilal Badr group, which opposes Fatah’s authority and influence in the camp.
The clashes continued until Friday morning, with heavy gunfire and explosions rocking the camp, which is located near the southern port city of Sidon. The Lebanese army deployed around the camp’s entrances and exits to prevent the spread of the fighting and to secure the evacuation of civilians.
According to medical sources, two Fatah members were killed and 15 others were injured in the clashes. The casualties included civilians who were caught in the crossfire or hit by stray bullets.
The clashes were reportedly triggered by a personal dispute between a Fatah commander and a Bilal Badr member, who fired at each other near a mosque in the camp. However, the underlying causes of the conflict are deeper and more complex, involving political, ideological and economic factors.
Ain al-Hilweh is home to more than 63,000 registered refugees, who live in overcrowded and impoverished conditions. The camp suffers from a lack of basic services, such as water, electricity, health care and education. The camp also hosts many armed groups, some of which are linked to regional powers or extremist movements, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda.
The camp has been a scene of frequent clashes and tensions between these groups, as well as between them and the Lebanese authorities. The Lebanese state has no formal control over the camp, which is governed by a committee of Palestinian factions under an agreement dating back to 1969. However, the Lebanese army occasionally intervenes to restore order or to prevent security threats from spilling over to the surrounding areas.
Not the First Time
The latest clashes in Ain al-Hilweh are not the first of their kind. In August 2017, a week-long battle between Fatah and Bilal Badr left at least 10 people dead and dozens wounded. The fighting was only stopped after a ceasefire agreement was reached with the mediation of other Palestinian factions and Lebanese officials.
The ceasefire agreement stipulated that Bilal Badr and other hardline groups should hand over their weapons and leave the camp, while Fatah should reduce its armed presence and allow the joint security force of the Palestinian factions to take charge of the camp’s security. However, the agreement was never fully implemented, as some groups refused to comply or reneged on their commitments.
The situation in Ain al-Hilweh remains fragile and volatile, as the root causes of the conflict remain unresolved. The camp needs urgent humanitarian assistance and development support, as well as political dialogue and reconciliation among its residents. The camp also needs more cooperation and coordination between the Palestinian factions and the Lebanese authorities, as well as between them and the international community, to prevent further violence and instability.