BEIRUT — Fighters from the multi-factional Palestinian Joint Security Force deployed in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon on Monday in an attempt to restore stability to the camp.
Ain al-Hilweh is Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, where two recent waves of internal clashes killed at least 30 people.
The latest fighting, between Sept. 7 and 14, pitted the Fatah movement, close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, against Islamist groups such as Jund el-Cham and al-Chabab al-Moslem (Muslim Youth).
On Monday, several officials of the joint force told L'Orient Today that they were delighted by the deployment and hoped to achieve other milestones, including the withdrawal of the remaining fighters from UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) schools and the return of displaced families.
'All factions took part'
On Monday, 45 uniformed soldiers out of a larger force of 165 were deployed inside the camp.
"All the parties we were expecting have participated, from all factions," said Mahmoud Ajoury, commander of the joint force. "We hope to be able to take the next steps to restore stability to the camp and get the inhabitants back."
"We still have to agree on two places: the point separating the Ras al-Ahmar and Tiri neighborhoods, and the point separating the Safsaf and Baraksat neighborhoods," continued Ajoury. "We hope that in 24 hours, 48 at the most, we will reach a coordinated withdrawal to the UNRWA schools."
Fighters from both the Fatah Movement and Islamist groups have occupied UNRWA agency schools, at the intersection of the zones of influence of conflicting parties in the camp, since August.
According to Ibrahim Jechi, leader of the Ansar Allah faction (Followers of God), the deployment of joint troops "spreads hope among our people and our camp."
He promised that the issue of the occupied schools will be settled in the coming days.
"One fundamental thing remains: Handing over the suspects to the authorities," said Jechi, referring those responsible for the killing of Abu Ashraf Armouchi, former head of Palestinian National Security in the Saida region, in a July ambush.
His death, along with the assassination of Islamist Abderrahmane Farhoud, sparked off the fighting in August.
Jechi told L'Orient Today that the suspects will need to be apprehended. He also condemned the heavy material damage and added his hope that "the United Nations and the organizations present in the camp will help" restore calm in Ain al-Hilweh.
The fighting in Ain al-Hilweh is part of the internal struggles between factions seeking to establish themselves in the camp, against a backdrop of easing relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran and US efforts to bring Saudi Arabia closer to Israel.
Ain al-Hilweh is home to around 80,000 of the country's 250,000 Palestinian refugees.