BEIRUT — Armed groups in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon have seized a school belonging to UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, bringing the number to eight, UNRWA's director of affairs in Lebanon, Dorothee Klaus, said in a statement Saturday.
Deadly clashes between gunmen affiliated with Islamist factions and the Fatah movement broke out in the camp last month, leaving at least 13 dead, many injured and causing extensive material damage. The fighting forced some 350 families to flee the camp, Lebanon's largest, to Saida neighborhoods.
“We have received credible reports of significant damage to school buildings and the looting of educational materials for children and equipment from the schools,” the statement explained.
“UNRWA renews its urgent call to all armed groups to immediately vacate its facilities in the Ain al-Hilweh camp, including schools and other service offices. Their presence constitutes a blatant violation of the neutrality and safety of United Nations facilities and poses a serious threat to the education of thousands of Palestinian refugee children living in the camp,” the statement said, as well as “to the timely start of the academic year for 5900 children from the camp.”
In protest on this situation, UNRWA suspended its services in the camp Friday for one day, Klaus recalled. The agency resumed providing some services delivery Saturday morning.
“The agency remains committed to delivering services in the camp, including health services, solid waste removal, and relief services wherever possible within the camp. We demand access to all areas of the camp so that the agency can reach all 50,000 Palestinian refugees who depend on UNRWA's services,” the statement concluded.
Ain al-Hilweh hosts around 80,000 of the country's 250,000 Palestinian refugees.
Reporting contributed by Muntasser Abdallah