SIDON, Lebanon: Cautious calm prevailed in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon Friday following the murder of a brother of a member of the Islamist Osbat al-Ansar.
At around 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon, explosions and heavy gunfire could be heard coming from inside the camp. The explosions and shooting paused briefly just after 6 p.m., before breaking out again.
Earlier Friday, a masked gunman opened fire on camp resident Hussein Alaaeddine while he was taking part in a demonstration for Palestinian rights, in the camp’s Ras al-Ahmar area.
He was seriously wounded and was taken to a hospital in Sidon, where he died soon after.
Local sources told The Daily Star that the gunfire that had been heard took place between the families of Alaaeddine and Bilal al-Arqoub, a notorious Islamist.
The incident did not lead to widespread clashes among the rival Palestinian factions in the camp.
The Alaaeddine family claimed that a member of the Arqoub family had killed Hussein out of revenge for a previous altercation.
In March, Hussein’s brother Khaled, a member of Osbat al-Ansar, allegedly shot and critically wounded Bilal al-Arqoub’s son Youssef in the camp’s Safsaf neighborhood, which is dominated largely by the camp’s Islamist factions.
Osbat al-Ansar in particular wields great influence.
It wasn’t Youssef al-Arqoub’s first run-in with trouble. In late 2018, he was involved in a dispute with a member of the Fatah Movement that wounded a civilian, who was hit by a stray bullet.
After the gunfire and explosions started Friday, units from the Lebanese Army cleared roads leading to the camp to allow residents to flee to nearby areas, fearing that the incident would escalate to full-fledged clashes, as has happened in Ain al-Hilweh in the past.
The state-run National News Agency reported that the leader of the joint Palestinian force, Bassam al-Saad, had called an emergency meeting with political leaders in the camp to restore calm and arrest those involved in Hussein’s murder.
Fathi Abu al-Ardat, the secretary of Fatah in Lebanon, said Alaaeddine was “a victim of crimes and weapons, which we hope to address so that we can put a stop to these sorts of incidents that hurt our people.”
“Let us preserve the security and blood of our people,” he said.
Ain al-Hilweh, Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, has become notorious for gunbattles and clashes among rival factions.
Perhaps the most severe hostilities took place from April to August 2017, when days of fighting killed at least six people and wounded over 40 others. The fighting had broken out between extremist Bilal Badr’s Islamist group and the joint Palestinian security force, which included members of Fatah.
The Al-Tiri neighborhood and its surroundings were badly damaged, and hundreds of residents were displaced to centers in other areas in and around the camp.