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Palestinian factions vow to detain Islamist militant as Ain al-Hilweh clashes subside

April 11, 2017 3:11 P.M. (Updated: April 11, 2017 7:15 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian factions met in the southern Lebanese city of Saida on Tuesday morning, in an effort to end deadly clashes that have devastated the nearby Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in recent weeks.

The meeting came after Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) reported that Bilal Badr -- a hardline Islamist militant with alleged links to al-Qaeda who has been based in the camp’s al-Tira neighborhood -- and his group had lost control of the perimeter of their stronghold in al-Tira, and that they had fled when a Palestinian joint security force deployed in the area.

The clashes have killed at least eight people and injured scores, including a four-year-old child, in the past two weeks.

The NNA stated that a meeting was held on Tuesday at the Fatah party headquarters in Saida between the joint Palestinian force deployed in Ain al-Hilweh and Islamist Palestinian groups, in an effort to address the ongoing conflict with militants led by Badr.

Fatah movement Secretary-General in Lebanon Fathi Abu al-Aradat was quoted by Lebanese news sites as saying that the faction representatives had agreed Badr’s armed group should be disbanded once and for all.

Al-Aradat added that the factions had agreed to deploy the joint security forces, which include fighters from Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, in al-Tira so as to maintain order and protect residents and their property.

"If he does not turn himself in, Bilal Badr will be considered a fugitive and the joint force will arrest him and hand him over to the Lebanese state," the news outlets quoted al-Aradat as saying.

Al-Mayadeen news channel reported on Monday that Palestinian Islamist forces in Ain al-Hilweh called for an end to the "Bilal Badr phenomenon" and for gunmen who attacked the joint Palestinian security forces to be turned in.

Meanwhile, local journalist Zaher Abu Hamada told Ma’an that quiet prevailed in Ain al-Hilweh on Tuesday morning, with Badr and his gunmen laying low after losing ground in the refugee camp.

On Monday evening, the NNA reported that clashes were ongoing but had mostly subsided, after stray bullets hit the governmental hospital in Saida and injured at least one person trying to flee Ain al-Hilweh in separate incidents.

The recent clashes have come as the latest episode in ongoing armed violence in Ain al-Hilweh that have left numerous Palestinians dead in recent months.

Badr and his followers are among a number of armed militants who have evaded Lebanese security forces and hidden in Palestinian refugee camps, whom PLO factions have long sought to expel from the camp.

The violence has been strongly condemned by UNICEF and UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for providing services to some five million Palestinian refugees, with UNRWA being forced to suspend its operations in the camp in a number of cases.

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 has 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.
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