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Security situation in Lebanon's Ain al-Hilweh stabilizes after days of deadly clashes

April 15, 2017 11:37 A.M. (Updated: April 16, 2017 11:14 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Security conditions in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon, which has been been the site of deadly clashes between Palestinian factions and Islamist militants in recent days, have stabilized, the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) said in a statement on Friday.

Ambassador Ashraf Dabbur said that he met with director of Lebanon’s general security Abbas Ibrahim and discussed the latest development in the refugee camp and the general situation of Palestinian refugee camps scattered across Lebanon.

UNRWA, responsible for providing services to some five million Palestinian refugees, said in a statement that its previously suspended services have been renewed in Ain al-Hilweh, including medical, social, and educational services.

The statement added that UNRWA would continue to send aid to Palestinian refugees who had fled the camp to the neighboring city of Saida until they returned to their homes.

Five days of clashes between a group headed by Bilal Badr -- a hardline Islamist militant with alleged links to al-Qaeda who had been based in the al-Tira area of the camp -- and Palestinian factions left at least eight people killed and scores injured.

Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) reported on Thursday that a Palestinian joint force had dismantled Badr’s “security zone” in the camp, though there were no reports of Badr being captured by security forces, despite Palestinian groups agreeing earlier this week that the leader should be detained and his armed group officially disbanded.

The recent clashes came 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.

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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