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Ain al-Hilweh mourns victim of celebratory gunfire

Residents of Ain al-Hilweh look at the obituary announcing Kourayem's death on Wednesday, August 27, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

SIDON, Lebanon: “Let me kiss him for the last time,” said the aggrieved mother of Kamal Kourayem, a victim of celebratory gunfire that erupted in Ain al-Hilweh as throngs gathered in the camp to rejoice at the open-ended cease-fire in Gaza.

Kourayem, who was laid to rest Wednesday, was killed after one of the many thousands of stray bullets shot in the air struck him, immediately after a Hamas official announced from the Khaled Ibn al-Walid’s minaret that the latest war in Gaza was over.

“I have lost my child for no reason,” said Hossneiah, Kourayem’s mother. “Will shooting in the air give us back Palestine?”

Kourayem, a hairdresser, died in front of his shop in the Al-Sfouri neighborhood. He was rushed to the hospital directly, but by the time he arrived it was too late.

With over 120,000 residents, Ain al-Hilweh is Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, and many of its residents have weapons.

The celebratory gunfire after the cease-fire in Gaza was announced endangered the lives of many, and the security forces were called on to put an end to it. According to security sources, more than 100 guns were fired at the same time.

“Those responsible for this should be punished,” said Omar, Kourayem’s father.

Following Tuesday’s incident, activity in the camp was subdued. Ain al-Hilweh’s residents expressed frustration over the lack of stability in the camp, despite the presence of the elite force.

“This isn’t the first time an innocent person was killed by a stray bullet,” said resident Mustapha Joumaa.

“We have been here since 1948 and we haven’t learned,” he lamented.

Samira Taha, another resident of the camp, believed that such acts were degrading and tainted the Palestinian cause.

“I am embarrassed to say I’m a Palestinian,” she said. “It’s a shame that no organization [in the camp] can hold its members responsible for the shooting.”

Kourayem was mourned by the Fatah Movement, which he joined in 2013. The biggest of the PLO factions, Fatah condemned the incident, saying that its member died in an “unfortunate” accident.

The death of Kourayem prompted Hamas to cancel its celebrations, which had been planned to take place Tuesday and Wednesday. The organization called Kourayem a “Martyr of Gaza.”

“Shooting should stop and security forces should hold those firing responsible,” said Abu Ahmad Fadel, a Hamas official in the Sidon area.

After the incident, the movement denied the possibility that its members had been involved in the celebratory gunfire.

“The movement’s members received strict instructions,” Fadel said. He explained that the members were aware of the severe punishment they would receive if they disobeyed orders.

“These weapons are to return to Palestine,” he added.

The head of the 150-member joint security force, which was deployed in Ain al-Hilweh a month ago, gave its assurances that an investigation would be carried out in the case.

“An investigation committee will look into the details of the accident,” Gen. Khaled Shayeb said.

Shayeb said that all shooting incidents, including this one, should prompt the security force to hold all of those who fired during celebrations responsible.

“All those of who caused Kourayem’s death will be punished,” Shayeb said.

“We are trying to coordinate with the various factions to prevent gunfire on any occasion.”

The death of Kourayem by a stray bullet wasn’t unprecedented in Ain al-Hilweh. Earlier this week Lebanese Abdul Rahma Mesto sustained serious injuries when residents in the camp fired shots in the air during a wedding ceremony.

Separately, Fadel revealed that mosques in the area had been able to raise $3,000,000 during the Gaza conflict.

The movement had urged people to donate to Gaza, and many had donated on the condition that the money would be used to attack Israel.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 28, 2014, on page 4.

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