A Palestinian security force deployed Friday in a school complex in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp in the country’s south, replacing gunmen who had occupied it since fighting broke out in late July leaving more than 30 people dead.
The deployment raises hopes that a nearly two-week cease-fire in the Ein el-Hilweh camp, near the southern port city of Sidon, will hold. On Sept. 14, members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah group and two Islamic militant factions, Jund al Sham and Shabab al Muslim, agreed to a cessation of hostilities.
The complex includes eight schools. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has been urging gunmen to evacuate the compound ahead of the school year that is supposed to start in early October.
In the afternoon, the security force, consisting of 55 fighters from factions including Hamas, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Asbat al-Ansar, took over the badly damaged compound. Some of the school walls were riddled with bullets and rockets.
In late July, Fatah accused the Islamic groups of gunning down a senior Fatah military official, Abu Ashraf al-Armoushi, triggering intense street battles . Several cease-fires were agreed but collapsed. The militants have still not handed over al-Armoushi’s killers.
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The commander of Shabab al Muslim, Haitham al-Shaabi told reporters that “the situation in the camp will soon return to normal.” He refused to answer questions related to the handover of al-Armoushi’s killers.
The latest cease-fire agreement, reached on Sept. 14, came after clashes that killed at least 18 people and wounded more than 100. The previous round of fighting earlier in the summer killed at least 13.
This week, UNRWA said that more than 11,000 Palestinian children in south Lebanon will not be able to join their peers at the beginning of the school year on Oct. 2. This is a quarter of refugee school children and is due to clashes in Ein el-Hilweh, UNRWA said.
UNRWA’s director in Lebanon Dorothee Klaus said earlier this week that the agency was forced to take this decision given “all our eight schools inside the camp have been taken over by armed groups.” She added that the schools have sustained significant damage.
Since the fighting began in late July, at least 4,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the camp, with many of them seeking refuge in UNRWA facilities.