BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Calm broken in Ain al-Hilweh day after protester’s death

SIDON, Lebanon: Angry Palestinian refugees hurled stones at a Lebanese Army post on the edge of the southern refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh Tuesday, breaking a tenuous calm which had reigned since a camp resident was killed Monday in clashes with the army.

Returning from the funeral of Khaled al-Youssef, a Palestinian refugee, hundreds of Ain al-Hilweh residents threw stones at an Army checkpoint in the village of Darb al-Sim, on the camp’s southeastern edge.

Youssef’s death was a result of collisions with the army sparked by unrest at the northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.

The young man was hit by a bullet in the neck Monday while taking part in a demonstration in the Taamir neighborhood of Ain al-Hilweh against the killing of Muhieddine Loubaneh and another refugee by the Army during a confrontation in Nahr al-Bared.

A 15-year-old Palestinian was killed in a similar standoff in Nahr al-Bared last week. Youssef’s family argues he was hit by “suspicious bullets.”

Youssef’s funeral was held following afternoon prayers amid a heavy presence of the Palestinian National Security Forces, particularly at the camp’s main entrance, intended to prevent friction with Lebanese Army.

Loubaneh was also buried Tuesday in Nahr al-Bared.

Earlier Tuesday, Palestinians across the country’s refugee camps held a general strike in protest against the deaths.

Shops were closed in both camps and angry residents blocked some main roads in Ain al-Hilweh with burning tires and barricades. Others blocked the road near an Army post at the camp’s western entrance. The Lebanese Army maintained their presence at Ain al-Hilweh’s entrances. Palestinians held a sit-in, pitched a protest tent and blocked the Ayrouniyeh-Baddawi road near Nahr al-Bared.

Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn said Tuesday that attacking Army posts is “dangerous and does not serve the interests of the Palestinian brothers at all.”

“Attacking the Army is tantamount to attacking the Lebanese people, especially given that the state and its people protect it, and it has unanimous support.”

He said what happened in both camps reflects “an attempt by some to take advantage of the tense political situation by attacking security in camps and tampering with stability,” given that Monday’s incidents followed agreements between the Army and Palestinian factions to improve living conditions of Palestinian refugees and preserve security. He did not specify the details of this agreement.

Meanwhile, Palestinian and Lebanese officials attempted to contain tension and launched an investigation into Youssef’s death.

The Palestinian Follow-up Committee and Youssef’s family blamed his death on “suspicious bullets.”

The committee’s secretary-general, Abd Maqdah, accused suspicious people of the killing and said “we highlight good ties with the Lebanese Army and with the camp’s surroundings ... and we will not permit the shaking of security in Ain al-Hilweh camp or Sidon.”

For the second day in a row, Sidon MP Bahia Hariri spoke to senior Palestinian and Lebanese security officials about the situation in Ain al-Hilweh.

Addressing visitors at her residence in Majdalyoun, east of Sidon, Hariri said that what happened in Ain al-Hilweh and Nahr al-Bared requires efforts to strengthen ties between the camps and the Lebanese Army, to maintain mutual respect.

For his part, Bassam Hammoud, Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya’s official in Sidon, contacted Lebanese and Palestinian officials in an effort to restore calm, calling on all sides to deal responsibly with what has happened and to exercise self-restraint to prevent dragging Ain al-Hilweh into strife.

Similar contacts were made by Osama Saad, the head of the Popular Nasserite Organization, and former Sidon mayor Abdel-Rahman Bizri.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 20, 2012, on page 1.

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