SIDON, Lebanon: Efforts by the Palestinian Follow-Up Committee to restore calm in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp were successful Tuesday, but only after eight people were wounded in renewed clashes between Fatah and Islamist militants.
After rocket propelled grenades and machine-gun fire were exchanged in the camp between Fatah and Fatah al-Islam, a cease-fire was reached following intense contacts among the dueling factions. The eight people wounded brought the total casualty figure since the clashes broke out Monday to one killed and 13 wounded, including six members from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who were wounded when a rocket propelled grenade exploded in their office.
Two separate delegations from the Palestinian Follow-Up Committee held meetings with the leaders of the groups involved in the clashes, after a meeting at Al-Nour mosque. The delegations succeeded in convincing the al-Masri family to bury Khaled Ahmad al-Masri, who was killed in Monday’s clashes, and refer his case to an investigative committee formed by the Follow-Up Committee.
The fighting erupted Monday, when a shooting targeting a former member of Fatah al-Islam in the camp led to sporadic clashes between the Islamist organization and Fatah.
The incident was reportedly triggered by a personal dispute in the Al-Tayri neighborhood between the suspected gunman, Abdel-Nasser S., and a former member of Fatah al-Islam, Bilal Badr, and his brother Ahmad, according the security sources. One person was killed and at least five others wounded in clashes that broke out after Fatah al-Islam militants retaliated for the Badr shooting by engaging in a gunfight with Fatah members.
A Palestinian source that spoke to The Daily Star expressed concern over the intensity of the clashes, given the history between the groups involved in the fighting.
“If an isolated incident triggered by personal disputes led to fierce clashes, property losses, injuries and deaths causing long-term tensions, What if the clashes took place between armed factions?” the source asked.
“Who will guarantee that such actions won’t happen again and that parties with an interest in escalating the situation won’t succeed in doing so?” the source added. “These issues place a challenge before all Palestinian factions. [We need] to contain the situation immediately to prevent it from spreading and control the fighters to preserve the stability of the camp,” the source said.
Separately several hundred residents protested against the violence by marching toward the area where the clashes took place, forming a human barrier between the fighters and demanding a cease-fire.
Daily life in Ain al-Hilweh was brought to a standstill as schools and shops closed out of fear of further security incidents. Many families left their homes and sought refuge in nearby villages and in Sidon.
Follow-Up Committee members expressed optimism that the cease-fire agreement would hold.
“The Fatah member who was killed was unarmed and we are working on restoring calm,” said the head of the Palestinian National Security Forces in Lebanon, Gen, Sobhi Abu Arab. “We have instructed all the units of the National Security Force not to retaliate ... but the fighters are being provoked.”
“Contacts with Islamist factions, notably Esbat al-Ansar and Sheikh Jamal Khattab, are under way to preserve calm and restore stability in the camp,” Abu Arab added.
The Secretary-General of the Palestinian Follow-Up Committee Abed Maqdah, was hopeful that the cease-fire would hold. “Masri will be buried Wednesday afternoon, and schools and shops will reopen normally on the same day,” he said.
The head of the Joint Security Forces, Col. Ahmad al-Nasr, said all factions would like to see the violence end.