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'Cautious calm' reported in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp after 4 wounded in clashes

Aug. 23, 2017 5:40 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 23, 2017 5:42 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Armed clashes erupted once again on Wednesday morning in Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp between Palestinian forces and fighters affiliated to Islamist hardliner Bilal Badr, as at least four residents were reported wounded.

According to Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA), clashes broke out between Palestinian and Badr-affiliated fighters in the camp on Tuesday and escalated on Wednesday hours after reports had emerged that a ceasefire was being brokered, as Islamist groups attempted to advance towards posts erected by Palestinian joint forces -- aimed at ridding the camp of Badr fighters.  

NNA reported in the morning that clashes were “fierce” and gunshots and explosions could be heard.  

Two members of the Fatah movement were reportedly injured after rockets struck a house in the camp, while two security officials were injured with stray bullets in a government building amid the gunfight, according to NNA.  

NNA reported later on Wednesday afternoon that a “cautious calm” was established in the camp, “occasionally interrupted by bombs, accompanied by bursts of fire shooting.” Palestinian joint forces were deployed in Al-Tira neighborhood in the camp after an alleged ceasefire, in order to "stabalize the situation" and inspect the damage caused by the clashes, according to NNA. 

On Tuesday night, the Hamas and Fatah movements held an emergency meeting in order to address the uptick of violence in Ain al-Hilweh in recent months.  

Last week, deadly violence erupted in Ain al-Hilweh between Palestinian factions and Badr-affiliated fighters, leaving at least three dead and several others wounded. 

Shortly after the Palestinian joint force was first deployed in the camp, violent clashes broke out for days in April, leaving at least 10 killed and rendering numerous buildings uninhabitable.

Badr, wanted by Lebanese authorities on numerous charges, has since reportedly disappeared into hiding.

By longstanding convention, the Lebanese army does not enter Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, leaving Palestinian factions to handle security themselves.

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 the UN, 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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