BEIRUT — The death toll for the deadly clashes in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp rose to 11 on Monday, UNRWA announced in a statement.
"According to reports, 11 were killed and another 40 were injured, including one staff member of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Two UNRWA schools have sustained damage. More than 2,000 people were forced to flee in search of safety," UNRWA said in its statement.
The clashes broke out Saturday between Islamist factions — who are close to Hamas, which is itself allied with Hezbollah — in the al-Safsaf neighborhood and the Fatah Movement stationed in the al-Baraksat neighborhood, near the northern entrance to the camp. The violence escalated and stretched across the entire camp, with stray bullets hitting nearby neighborhoods of Saida.
In a Monday statement, Islamic forces within the camp announced that the Joint Palestinian Action Committee, with the sponsorship of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, announced an agreement on an immediate ceasefire, but the sound of gunfire could still be heard within the camp.
Dozens were forced to flee their homes since the clashes erupted on Saturday. By Monday, some families were still sheltering in a nearby mosque for safety.
The clashes intensified by Monday noon, as a L'Orient Today correspondent heard the sounds of heavy weaponry. Smoke could be seen rising over buildings near the northern entrance of the camp as gunshots rang out.
A Monday meeting at Saida MP Osama Saad's office brought together the Joint Palestinian Action Committee and representatives of various Lebanese parties to discuss ways to stop the fighting in Ain al-Hilweh.
The various parties agreed to establish a ceasefire, withdraw the gunmen, form an investigation committee, and surrender those involved to the Lebanese state. According to a statement, the ceasefire agreement was reached "with the sponsorship of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement."
Islamic forces in the camp said they would continue their efforts to bring peace to the camp. They also condemned firing on civilians, houses and places of worship, adding that they "refuse to harm our brothers in Saida and its neighborhood and endanger the lives of their children."
Earlier, a military source from Fatah said the party was coordinating with the Palestinian National Security forces to deal “forcefully with the sources of gunfire," and that they were "tightening the noose on extremist groups in the emergency neighborhood,” where clashes were ongoing.
According to the source, the Fatah movement and the Palestinian National Security forces were “continuing their progress from the lower side of the emergency neighborhood near the Jaloul station, while our forces maintain pressure from the upper side.”
“These groups have taken civilian homes as bases for firing and launching projectiles,” the source told L’Orient Today.
Meanwhile, camp residents who had taken shelter overnight at the nearby al-Musalli Mosque were being relocated to UNRWA schools in Saida after the fighting intensified.
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.
On Monday, Fatah appointed Abou Ayad al-Chaalan as the new leader of the Palestinian National Security in the Saida region. Chaalan will replace Abu Ashraf al-Armoush, who was killed Sunday during the ongoing fighting between Fatah and Islamist groups in the Ain al-Hilweh camp.
In a statement, Hamas criticized the ongoing fighting in the camp and called for dialogue to preserve civil peace and to spare the blood of the Palestinian people.
A security source told L'Orient Today that the Lebanese Army took strict strict security measures and closed the camp's entrances. Security forces also blocked traffic at the city's southern entrance due to stray bullets, as well as at the northern entrance on the eastern highway near the Hariri Mosque.
Traffic was redirected to the seaside road for those coming from Beirut and from the south, and citizens were advised to take Saida's coastal road instead of those closer to the city.
L'Orient Today's correspondent on the scene could hear rocket shells Monday morning as the fighting continued. Saida schools, the city's Grand Serail and traffic were all shut down on Monday, while UNRWA announced it had suspended all services in the camp.
During a cabinet meeting on Monday afternoon, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he is following the situation.
"We don't accept Lebanon to be used to settle scores on external matters, at the expense of the Lebanese and the people of Saida," Mikati added. "Everybody who resides on Lebanese soil must respect Lebanese sovereignty and laws."
On Monday, Kataeb Leader Sami Gemayel called for the disarmament of Palestinian camps, saying "there should not be any illegitimate weapons" in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Lebanon's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian commented on the clashes, saying Monday that "according to Sharia, fighting between brothers is forbidden, whatever the reason."
Derian added that people's safety should be preserved and that "our cause is and will always be Palestine, Jerusalem and its people." He also contacted Ambassador Dabbour to express his support for Palestinian unity, and called for an end to clashes "that only benefit Israel."
MP Abdul Rahman Bizri (Independent/Saida) told the VDL radio station Monday that “what is happening [in the camp] is a result of the security laxity in the vicinity of the camp in the past, allowing some elements with security issues to enter the camp."
He added that "most of the forces and actors in the area have been in contact with the security forces, the army, and the government since yesterday to find a formula that would make the involved factions in these clashes cease-fire because the solution is primarily political."
Stray bullets reportedly hit houses in Saida, while L'Orient Today's correspondent on Sunday found smashed windows in LeMall Saida, an upscale shopping center. Bullets also hit houses in the nearby town of Mieh Mieh.
The clashes resulted in property damage and the burning of several houses and shops inside the Ain al-Hilweh 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.
The densely populated Ain al-Hilweh camp is regularly the scene of shootings and clashes, either due to personal disputes or because of tensions between various Palestinian factions.
Reporting contributed by Muntasser Abdallah.