Two people were killed and at least 11 wounded when a personal dispute escalated into violent clashes between two militias in the south Lebanon refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh.
Witnesses said machine guns, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades were used in the clashes between members of secular Fatah and Al-Qaeda-linked Jund al-Sham, which is classified as a terrorist group by the Lebanese government.
The fighting subsided around 7 p.m. after more than five hours of heavy clashes, with mediation from a local civilian group and the intervention of a 1-year-old Palestinian security force responsible for maintaining order in the camp, which is off limits to Lebanese security forces.
The two men killed in the clashes were identified as Palestinians Mahmoud Osman, a militant who participated in the fighting, and civilian Mehdi Hasna, known by his nickname Al-Tabarawi. The wounded included at least one woman.
The groups have a long history of rivalry in the camp. Jund al-Sham in Lebanon, which belongs to a regional network believed to have been supported by slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has been accused of assassinating many Fatah leaders.
Residents of the impoverished refugee camp could not have thought of a worse time to celebrate the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.
After guns fell silent, families walked outside to survey the damage before returning home for iftar. The five hours of clashes were enough to make the neighborhood of Taytaba look like a war zone. Weeping at the sight of damage to her family’s modest possessions, a woman was heard crying: “What is happening is unfair. What cause did it serve? Who will compensate us for this disaster?”
Bullet holes riddled walls and grenade blasts destroyed humble Ramadan decorations, along with the joyful, and ultimately short-lived, atmosphere they had brought. Water and electricity networks in the affected neighborhoods were also damaged. The fighting destroyed seven cars and caused fires in many houses.
A group called the Popular Initiative mediated between the rivals to end the clashes, a security source said. MP Bahia Hariri also helped by calling the leaders of prominent Palestinian factions in the camp.
Militants from both sides, who had deployed in the dozens, withdrew from the streets after the end of the clashes, but remained in the area in case of renewed fighting. Subhi Abu Arab, the head of the Palestinian joint elite force, told The Daily Star that all militants were told to return to the other parts of the camp from where they rushed to join the clashes.
Fighting started Wednesday as a personal dispute between Palestinians Abed Sultan and Bilal Arqoub, members of the Fatah party and the Maqdisi group, respectively.
Maqdisi, which is close to Islamist factions in the camp including Jund al-Sham, is headed by Fadi al-Saleh.
Members of the men’s families later got involved in the fighting, which quickly transformed into an armed clash between their militias and allies.