BEIRUT — Deadly clashes between rival groups in Saida's Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp renewed for a second day on Sunday, killing five more people and raising the total dead since Saturday to six as "dozens" of families fled their homes, security sources inside the camp told L'Orient Today.
According to an official medical source, who preferred to remain anonymous, the total number of wounded who were transported to a hospital had risen to 40 by early Sunday evening, while those who were treated in the field were 30. Around 20 more people with minor injuries had yet to be treated.
Among the injured was a Lebanese Army soldier who was hurt by shrapnel from a mortar shell that fell on a military barracks, the army announced on Twitter. The soldier’s condition was described as stable.
A camp resident told L'Orient Today they saw families with children leaving Ain al-Hilweh on Sunday afternoon, carrying bags with their belongings. Dozens took shelter at a nearby mosque.
Islamic factions stationed in the al-Safsaf neighborhood were fighting against Fatah movement factions stationed in the al-Baraksat neighborhood at the northern entrance to the camp, a source added. The echoes of machine guns and RPG shells were heard on Sunday as far away as Saida city. Fighters also used hand grenades, according to camp sources.
Meanwhile, stray bullets reportedly hit houses in Saida, while L'Orient Today's correspond found smashed windows in LeMall Saida, an upscale shopping center. Bullets also hit houses in the nearby town of Mieh Mieh. There were no reported injuries in those incidents, though Saida residents called on one another to stay indoors for safety.
Major General Mounir al-Makdah of the Fatah movement confirmed to our correspondent that a Palestinian security official, Abu Ahmed al-Armoushi, and four of his bodyguards were the five people killed on Sunday. Several people accompanying them were wounded.
He added that the situation is worsening and the clashes are fierce between Islamist extremists stationed in the Al-Tawari neighborhood and Al-Safsaf neighborhood and that they were targeting Fatah centers in the al-Baraksat neighborhood.
Meanwhile, an official in the camp's Democratic Front, Fouad Othman, told our correspondent that the Palestinian Action Committee is in touch with both rivals and working to bring peace back to the camp.
Clashes between rival groups are common in Ain al-Hilweh, which is home to more than 54,000 registered Palestinian refugees who have been joined in recent years by thousands of Palestinians fleeing the conflict in Syria.
Earlier, on Saturday, "an Islamist from al-Shabab al-Muslim group was killed, and a leader in the group was among the wounded," said a Palestinian source inside the camp, who requested not to be identified for security reasons.
The clashes pitted members of the Fatah movement against Islamist groups in the camp, the source said. That incident happened about two months after similar clashes killed a Fatah member in Ain al-Hilweh.
Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said "an assassination attempt targeting an Islamist activist" rocked the camp on Saturday.
Othman on Sunday added that the Palestinian factions "demand and insist on" handing over the murderer.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said in a statement Sunday that the "timing of the Palestinian clashes in Ain al-Hilweh is suspicious, given the regional and international circumstances, and is part of repeated attempts to use the Lebanese scene to settle foreign scores at the expense of Lebanon and the Lebanese people."
"These clashes come at a time when Egypt is trying to put an end to the inter-Palestinian conflicts, and are part of the messages being transmitted via the Lebanese scene," he added, without naming those he was targeting with his remarks.
Mikati added that the clashes "consecrate the security islands that escape the state."
"A firm decision by the Palestinian factions to respect Lebanon's sovereignty is demanded," he said.
"We call on the Palestinian factions, in coordination with the army, to hand over the instigators to the Lebanese authorities... We also call on the army and the security services to bring the situation inside the camp under control."
"The [Lebanese] government is working to improve the living conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon through a national strategy, but the Palestinian factions must put an end to these recurrent clashes," Mikati added.
The clashes were still ongoing on Sunday evening when a L'Orient Today reporter found dozens of families sheltering in a mosque just outside the camp, including children and the elderly. Volunteers distributed sandwiches.
“We left our home barefoot after a rocket fell in the building’s staircase,” Hanan, a teenage girl, told L'Orient Today as she sat on the floor of the mosque with her family.
Um Muhammad, another camp resident, held her grandchildren in her arms as she described running for safety. “My fear for the kids led me to flee with them and take shelter here."
Around her, children could be heard shouting from fear, while some women appeared to shake as gunfire still rang out from the camp.
Reporting contributed by Muntasser Abdallah