Fierce clashes rock Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon

A member of the Palestinian Fateh Movement prepares to fires an RPG during clashes that erupted between the Palestinian Fatah Movement and Islamists in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh near the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon, Sunday, April 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

SIDON, Lebanon: Residents fled the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon on Sunday as clashes between Palestinian security forces and radical Islamists intensified for the third day.

Ambulances rushed the wounded to hospitals near the Ein el-Hilweh camp in the port city of Sidon, and Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported that four people were killed since the fighting began Friday.

Fighters armed with assault rifles and truck-mounted rocket-propelled grenades traded fire inside.

Traces of violence spilled beyond the camp’s boundaries, and Lebanon’s authorities closed the highway connecting the city to southern Lebanon. Sidon’s government hospital was struck by a rocket.

Representatives of several of the largest Palestinian factions, including Fatah, ordered the Islamist fighter Bilal Badr and his followers to hand themselves over to the authorities or face a decisive crackdown. The camp’s radical groups have regularly fallen afoul of Palestinian security forces for hiding fugitives from the Lebanese law. Per an agreement with the PLO, Lebanon’s security forces are not authorized to enter the camp.

Salah al-Ali, a resident of the camp, said there was damage from shelling inside the camp. “We ask from God that the situation calms down so that we can return to our homes,” he said Sidon’s Musally mosque, where he was taking shelter.

The spokesman for the Council of Palestinian Scholars in Lebanon said the radical groups were issuing fatwas authorizing the killing of people they disagreed with.

“This has led to chaos in Ein el-Hilweh,” said Sheikh Mohamad al-Muwad, in his office in Sidon. “These groups do not abide by any oaths or promises.”

Palestinians in Lebanon are prohibited from working in professional jobs and have few legal protections in Lebanon. They are prohibited from owning property as well.

The U.N. says some 55,000 people live in Ein el-Hilweh. It was established in 1948, to host Palestinians displaced by Israeli forces during the establishment of Israel. Lebanese authorities have paused construction of a concrete barrier around the camp.