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UN condemns violence in Lebanon refugee camp, suspends services

Dec. 23, 2016 5:22 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 23, 2016 5:59 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for providing services to some five million Palestinian refugees, condemned recent armed violence in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in Lebanon that has left two dead and at least five injured since Wednesday.

As a result of the violence, UNRWA suspended its operations in the camp “until further notice” -- the fourth time in the past month that UNRWA closed its services due to “security incidents.”

“Violent incidents in Ain al-Hilweh continue to shock and frighten camp residents,” UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness wrote in a statement on Thursday. “They prevent children going to school and patients going to clinics; and they threaten the safety and security of civilians and their ability to access a range of services.”

According to Gunness, the violence has forced two health centers to close temporarily and impacted more than 6,000 children who attend nine UNRWA administered schools in the camp.

“We again call on all those involved to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and to ensure the protection of Palestine refugees, particularly of children,” Gunness said.

On Friday morning, The Daily Star Lebanon reported that “a cautious calm” returned to the camp following the two days of fighting, however later Friday afternoon, Lebanon’s national news agency reported that a blast was heard inside the camp, without providing further details.

The agency said a man was injured in the leg by a sniper bullet on Thursday, while three Palestinian refugees were shot dead and four were injured during a shooting incident in the camp on Wednesday.

The Daily Star described the armed violence as a conflict between supporters of the Fatah movement and radical Islamist groups.

The camp has also been the site of recent confrontations between its Palestinian residents and the Lebanese army.

The largest and most crowded refugee camp in Lebanon, Ain al-Hilweh is home to some 54,116 registered refugees who fled their villages during the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, according to the UN.

However, the population significantly increased since 2011 as a result of the Syrian war, as Palestinians have been displaced a second time from refugee camps across Syria, with development nonprofit organization Anera estimating the camp's population to be closer to 120,000.

According to UNRWA, Ain al-Hilweh suffers from high rates of poverty and poor housing conditions, which have been further stressed as a result of overcrowding in recent years.

Palestinians in Lebanon have the highest percentage of their population living in abject poverty from among the other countries the organization serves, according to UNRWA.

Facing discriminatory employment policies, Palestinians in Lebanon are restricted from working in over 20 professions or claiming the same rights as other non-citizens in Lebanon, while all the refugee camps suffer from overcrowding, poor housing conditions, and a lack of infrastructure.
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