Clashes between gunmen in the Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon intensified on Tuesday, with a severely wounded child the latest casualty in several days of violence, witnesses and security sources said. Islamist militants and gunmen from the Palestinian Fatah party have engaged in intermittent clashes since last week, trading machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire, and wounding several people.
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The camp, near the southern Lebanese coastal city of Sidon, has regularly seen factional disputes spiral into deadly violence. Witnesses said a young boy was severely wounded in the head, apparently by a gunshot, and taken to hospital.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency earlier reported the boy had died. The family later said he was not dead, but had been severely wounded and was being treated in hospital. Palestinian activists inside the camp urged people to protest against the violence. A loudspeaker on a mosque implored the warring sides to stop firing to avoid civilian casualties, even as gunfire rang out, a Reuters witness said. Gunmen from Fatah, the party of West Bank-based Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, have regularly clashed with Islamist militants in the camp, including supporters of Islamic State and al Qaeda.
On a visit to Beirut last week, Abbas discussed with Lebanese officials the security arrangements in Palestinian camps in the country, which are home to nearly 450,000 Palestinian refugees. Fatah has an agreement with Lebanese authorities to hand over wanted Islamist militants hiding out in Ain el-Hilweh, which is outside Lebanese security forces’ jurisdiction, a security source said.
Attempted Fatah crackdowns are a source of ongoing tension between it and the Islamists, the source added.