UN Suspends Services in Lebanon’s Largest Palestinian Refugee Camp
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has suspended services in Ain El-Hilweh, Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp. The decision comes in response to the presence of armed fighters in and around UNRWA schools and facilities. The agency stated that it “does not tolerate actions that breach the inviolability and neutrality of its installations.”
The suspension of services follows violent clashes in late July between armed members of the Fatah movement and extremists from rival groups. The clashes resulted in 11 deaths, over 40 injuries, and the displacement of thousands of people. UNRWA also expressed concern that the schools in the camp may not be available for the 3,200 children at the start of the new school year due to repeated violations and significant damage to facilities.
UNRWA called on armed actors to vacate its facilities immediately to ensure the unimpeded delivery of much-needed assistance to Palestine refugees. The agency is closely monitoring developments in the camp, hoping for a clearer picture of the situation.
The suspension of services could have severe consequences for healthcare, education, water management, electricity, sanitation, and municipal services within the camp. Hesham Dibsi, a Palestinian political researcher, warned that the collapse of these services would further exacerbate the already dire living conditions of the camp’s residents.
Ain El-Hilweh is home to approximately 63,000 Palestinians, as well as other nationalities in need of affordable housing. Between 33,000 and 36,000 registered Palestinian refugees are under UNRWA’s care, making up 60 percent of the camp’s population.
The UNRWA school complex in the camp is situated in a zone controlled by extremist groups who turned it into a stronghold during the recent clashes. Ghassan Ayoub, a senior member of the Palestinian People’s Party in Lebanon, commended UNRWA’s decision, stating that it sends a strong message to Palestinian factions in the camp who have turned facilities into a battlefront. He emphasized the importance of upholding the ceasefire agreement to prevent further clashes.
Dorothee Klaus, director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, expressed concern over reports that armed groups continue to occupy UNRWA facilities, including the school complex, which sustained significant damage during the fighting. Klaus described this as a blatant violation of international law and a threat to the safety and security of UNRWA staff and Palestinian refugees.
In the aftermath of the clashes, 400 houses were destroyed, and military activities forced hundreds of families to flee. Security in the camp is overseen by the Lebanese army and Palestinian factions. Ayoub stated that extremist groups, including Asbat Al-Ansar and the Islamic Jihad movement, have declared their willingness to surrender any individuals involved in criminal activities to Lebanese authorities. However, he stressed the importance of implementing this declaration to restore calm and dismantle security barriers impeding UNRWA’s operations.
An investigative committee’s report on the clashes is expected within days and will address the situation. UNRWA’s decision to suspend services in Ain El-Hilweh highlights the urgent need for a resolution to the ongoing conflict and the restoration of peace and stability in the camp. The international community must work together to support UNRWA’s efforts and ensure the well-being of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.