Main Palestinian factions back Lebanon camp truce

AFP , Wednesday 13 Sep 2023

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement and its Islamist rival Hamas have backed a fledgling ceasefire in a south Lebanon camp hit by deadly fighting, a statement said Wednesday.

Ain Al-Helwah
This handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on shows Lebanon s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati (C) meeting with a delegation headed by Azzam al-Ahmad (L), a senior official of the Palestinian Fatah movement, at the government palace in Beirut on September 13, 2023. AFP


Clashes have rocked the Ain al-Helweh refugee camp, on the outskirts of the southern city of Sidon, since last Thursday, pitting members of the Fatah movement, which controls the camp, against hardline Islamist militants. Hamas has stayed out of the fighting.

At least nine people have been killed and more than 85 wounded, including fighters and civilians, the Palestinian Red Crescent said on Wednesday.

Senior Palestinian officials, including Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmad and Hamas's Mussa Abu Marzuk, met late Tuesday at the Palestinian embassy in Beirut, a joint statement said.

They expressed their "full commitment to consolidating the ceasefire" and agreed to "work to facilitate the return of those forced from their homes, and vacate schools as soon as possible".

They also agreed to "continue coordination with the Lebanese state", the statement added.

By longstanding convention, the Lebanese army stays out of the Palestinian camps and leaves the factions to handle security.

Fatah's Ahmad also discussed the situation with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and other officials on Wednesday.

Ain al-Helweh is home to more than 54,000 registered refugees and thousands of Palestinians who joined them in recent years from neighbouring Syria, fleeing the civil war there.

The camp, Lebanon's largest, was created for Palestinians who were driven out or fled during the war that accompanied the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has said the fighting has displaced hundreds of families.

On Monday evening, a ceasefire was announced by Lebanon's General Security agency after a meeting between its director and Palestinian security officials, but Tuesday saw brief clashes.

An AFP correspondent in Sidon said the situation was tense but largely calm on Wednesday morning, despite sporadic bursts of gunfire.

Five days of fighting in Ain al-Helweh that began in late July killed 13 people and wounded dozens, in the deadliest outbreak of violence in the camp in years.

That fighting erupted after the death of an Islamist militant, followed by an ambush that killed five Fatah members, including a military leader.

According to the Palestinian joint statement, the factions also confirmed a decision to hand over those wanted for the military leader's killing.

Rivals Fatah and Hamas are the most prominent Palestinian factions. Fatah dominates the Palestinian Authority, based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip.

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