Geneva - Concerned parties in Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp must cease fire, said Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor in a statement, stressing the need to make every possible effort to prevent a resurgence of violence.
Euro-Med Monitor followed with grave concern the clashes that erupted between armed groups in Ain al-Hilweh camp in southern Lebanon over the past three days. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), 11 people were killed and dozens were injured as a result of the violence.
Nearly 2,000 Palestinian refugees have been forced to flee the camp in search of safety. UNRWA has also announced a temporary halt to operations in the camp after one of its employees was injured and two of its schools were damaged during the clashes.
The armed groups’ agreement on a ceasefire on Monday evening is a positive step, but it also requires the commitment of all parties involved to stop all forms of violence and completely end the escalation.
The clashes escalated on Sunday 30 July after the killing of the leader of one of the armed groups affiliated with the Fatah movement within the camp, along with four of his companions. Militants used a variety of light and heavy weaponry, including rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), despite the camp’s high population density of 50,000 residents.
Armed groups violated international humanitarian law during the clashes by damaging several residential buildings and service facilities inside the camp, and in the nearby city of Sidon, a civilian was injured by a stray bullet when a shell landed on a vegetable market.
“I narrowly escaped death during the Monday clashes,” said Ain al-Hilweh camp resident Akram Saeed, whose real name has been withheld for safety reasons, in a statement to Euro-Med Monitor. “A shell exploded in mid-air, metres away, as I drove down Al Fawar Street near the Mosuli Mosque. Luckily, I was unharmed.”
Khaled Ahmed, another Ain al-Hilweh camp resident whose real name has been withheld for safety reasons, told the Euro-Med Monitor team that his house is near the Government Hospital checkpoint. “A shell landed in my house on the first day of clashing, but it did not explode,” he said. “After that, I decided to leave the house with my family and stay at a friend’s house in the neighbouring city of Sidon.”
Ahmed explained that he had to return home the next day with two of his daughters in order to pick up a few essentials before heading back to Sidon. Upon checking the house, he “discovered that the water tank had been punctured by bullets, which had also damaged [the] air conditioner and walls”, he said.
“We gathered our belongings, and as soon as we exited the house, we saw a bullet flying beneath our feet,” Ahmed stated. “Perhaps a split second was the difference between our injury and survival. We hastily left the place afterwards.”
“The lives of the vulnerable refugees in Ain al-Hilweh camp should never be jeopardised by random violence; all parties involved must take responsibility and recognise that nothing is more important than the safety of refugees in the camp,” said Mohammad Moghabat, Euro-Med Monitor’s regional office director in Lebanon.
“Talks to consolidate the ceasefire in Ain al-Hilweh must also address the root cause of conflict between armed groups to ensure that clashes do not reoccur in the future,” Moghabat added.
Palestinian refugees in the Ain al-Hilweh camp face enormous difficulties in accessing daily necessities, which worsen during armed clashes. The poverty rate in Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps is nearly 90 per cent, with all camps suffering from poor infrastructure and a severe lack of essential services.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor urged the Lebanese government to take responsibility for the safety of civilians in the Ain al-Hilweh camp, regardless of nationality or legal status. The assumption of security by Palestinians living in the camp does not relieve Lebanese authorities of their obligation to make all possible efforts to protect civilians and preserve facilities as per relevant legal parameters.
Lebanon’s government must allow humanitarian and relief organisations access to the camp in order to provide aid to the population; assess the extent of the damage caused by the clashes; assist those in need, including by providing medical aid, shelter, and psychological as well as social support; and address the damages to homes and infrastructure.
Concerned parties must conduct a transparent and independent investigation into the acts of violence, identify those responsible, and hold them accountable in accordance with legal requirements, plus ensure that vulnerable refugees are spared additional difficulties and risks.