SIDON, Lebanon — Fighting intensified in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp Monday claiming the life of another person as stray bullets and shells hit residential areas in the country’s third-largest city.
The fighting that resumed Thursday night after nearly a month of calm in Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp near the port city of Sidon between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah group and militant Islamist groups has left six people dead and more than 50 wounded according to medical officials and state media.
Fatah and other allied militant factions in the camp had intended to crack down on suspects accused of killing one of their military generals in late July.
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, shared its own tally on Sunday saying four people were killed and 60 others wounded.
On Monday, gunfire and explosions were heard throughout the day inside the camp and stray bullets hit the municipality building in Sidon damaging windows without hurting anyone, the state-run National News Agency said. The public Lebanese University was closed and the Lebanese Army closed off the main highway that links Beirut with southern Lebanon near the camp and traffic was directed toward a coastal road.
“The city is suffering. The civilians in the camp are suffering,” Lebanese legislator who represents Sidon Abdul-Rahman Bizri said in an interview with The Associated Press. He added that the fighting may continue for the coming days with “no clear winner or loser … because the balance of power in the camp is very difficult and delicate.”
The Lebanese military said Sunday night that five soldiers were wounded after three shells hit an army checkpoint surrounding the camp, with one in a critical condition.
“We will not stand idle with what is happening in Ein el-Hilweh,” warned Maj. Gen. Elias al-Baysari head of the General Security Directorate in an interview with a local newspaper published Monday. “The situation in the camp is unbearable,” he said.
Al-Baysari later Monday hosted a meeting at his office in Beirut that included officials from several Palestinian factions to discuss the possibility of a new truce.
Two of the combatting groups Sunday said they would abide by a cease-fire, though Fatah did not officially respond to those claims. It was unclear if a decision was reached during the meeting.
Ein el-Hilweh — home to some 55,000 people according to the United Nations — is notorious for its lawlessness, and violence is not uncommon in the camp. It was established in 1948 to house Palestinians who were displaced when Israel was established.
UNRWA said hundreds of families displaced from the camp have taken shelter in nearby mosques, schools and the Sidon municipality building.
Earlier this summer, street battles in the Ein el-Hilweh between Fatah and members of the extremist Jund al-Sham group and Shabab al-Muslim lasted for several days, leaving 13 people dead and dozens wounded, and ended after an uneasy truce was put in place on Aug. 3. The fighting also forced hundreds to flee their homes.
Lebanon is home to tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Many live in the 12 refugee camps that are scattered around the small Mediterranean country.