BEIRUT — A joint Palestinian security force, composed of representatives from various Palestinian factions, will begin deploying on Sunday morning in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in South Lebanon, the commander of the force confirmed to L'Orient Today.
This marks the first step in restoring stability in the Palestinian refugee camp after two consecutive waves of clashes in recent weeks.
The most recent conflicts, involving the Fatah movement, aligned with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Islamist groups such as Jund al-Cham and the Muslim Youth, shook the camp and the surrounding neighborhoods of Saida between Sept. 7 and 14.
Prior to that, clashes between the same groups erupted in early August.
These clashes have resulted in more than 30 deaths in total.
The recent fighting is connected to internal struggles between the various factions vying for control within the camp, set against the backdrop of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as US efforts to bring Saudi Arabia closer to Israel.
Ain al-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian camp in Lebanon, is home to approximately 80,000 of the 250,000 Palestinian refugees in the country.
In an effort to calm the situation, and with a cease-fire announced on Sept. 14 appearing to have thus far held, the joint force will deploy starting at 11 a.m. Sunday in the camp, Palestinian sources told L'Orient Today's correspondent in the south, following a meeting Saturday among the concerned factions.
The meeting, led by the commander of the joint force, Mahmoud Ajoury, outlined the deployment plan in different quarters.
On Friday evening, Ajoury informed L'Orient Today that the force members would initially be mobilized "in two critical points of the camp where the clashes were intense," namely between the Hattin and Ras al-Ahmar neighborhoods and between Safsaf and Baraksat.
The Cairo Agreement, signed in 1969, established that the Lebanese Army would not deploy inside Palestinian camps in Lebanon, where security is provided by Palestinian factions. That decision was revoked during Amine Gemayel's tenure as president in the 1980s, but de facto remains in force.
"If this initial maneuver is successful, a second deployment will be considered in the UNRWA [the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees] school complex once the fighters still present in that complex have withdrawn," Ajoury added.
These fighters, both from Fatah and Islamist groups, have been stationed in the UN agency's schools at the intersection of the conflicting parties' spheres of influence since the end of the fighting in August.
Their presence has prevented a complete easing of tensions despite the cease-fire, and has been criticized by the UN, which has repeatedly warned against the occupation of its premises and its impact on the education of young people in the camp.
The Palestinian security official further stated that the different stages of deployment would depend, in part, on the handover of the suspects in the murder of Abou Ashraf al-Armoushi, a Fatah-affiliated security official killed in late July, and his associates, as well as the Islamist Abdul Rahman Farhud, who was killed before Armushi.
These assassinations triggered the August clashes.
Furthermore, the issue of damages caused outside the camp due to the fighting and compensating the victims was discussed on Saturday during a phone call between Saida MP Abdel Rahman Bizri and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, according to a statement from Bizri's press office.
The two men called for a prompt assessment of the damages and the establishment of a "mechanism for compensating the victims." They requested the intervention of the Higher Relief Committee, which will conduct an inspection visit early next week.
Reporting contributed by Muntasser Abdallah