BEIRUT — Rival factions clashed in a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon for a third straight day on Monday in an eruption of violence that has left at least five people dead since it began.
The fighting in Ein al-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, was set off by the killing on Saturday of a leader of the Fatah faction and four of his bodyguards by another Palestinian group, according to Lebanese state media and a Fatah commander. Fatah is the political party that controls the Palestinian Authority — the administration over parts of the occupied West Bank.
The Fatah commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said his faction was trying to surround the group behind the attack on Saturday, which he identified as Jund al-Sham. Fatah has previously clashed with Jund al-Sham, an Islamist group, in Ein al-Hilweh.
“The clashes are expanding,” said Dr. Riad Abo Elaynein, an administrator at a private hospital near the camp. “The sounds of shelling are still being heard from inside the camp.”
The fighting came as rival Palestinian groups, including Fatah and Hamas, met in Egypt for reconciliation talks in an effort to move toward Palestinian national unity. The Palestinian political leadership has been severely fractured since Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, won an election there and then wrested control of the coastal enclave from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.
The Ein al-Hilweh camp is home to more than 63,000 people living in a small area of densely packed buildings, most of them Palestinians and their descendants who were forced to flee their homes in 1948 when the state of Israel was established, according to the United Nations. Clashes in the camp, which is under the administration of Palestinian groups, are not uncommon.
In 2017, following the dissolution of a joint security force in the camp that was aimed at preventing clashes between rival factions and cracking down on extremists, intermittent fighting over several months broke out between Fatah and Islamist groups, according to the United Nations. The fighting then left nearly 20 people dead and dozens injured.
The regular Lebanese army forces rarely enter the camp, which is surrounded by a wall, according to the United Nations. Lebanon’s army is just one of many armed forces in the country, which include Shiite groups like Hezbollah that control large parts of the south and northeast. In addition, there are Palestinian factions that hold sway inside the various refugee camps around the country.
“We support what the Lebanese government is doing to impose law and order and we affirm our keenness on Lebanon’s sovereignty, including Palestinian refugee camps, and maintaining security and law,” the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, said in his statement.
The clashes in the camp, which involved heavy weaponry — including machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades — threatened to spill over outside the walls of the camp to the coastal city of Sidon, south of Beirut on the Mediterranean.
Hundreds of camp residents have fled their homes and at least 35 people have been injured, according to a doctor at a hospital on the outskirts of the camp, which has been receiving the wounded. A government hospital on the outskirts of the camp was evacuated and its patients either sent home or to other hospitals, the Lebanese health ministry said.
Palestinian factions in the camp have been meeting to discuss a cease-fire.
Mr. Abbas and Fatah condemned the killing on Sunday and said it undermined the stability of the camp. He called it “a terrorist assassination” of Palestinian Authority security forces who were working to keep the camp safe.
The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency opened schools to accommodate those fleeing the fighting, and ambulances were waiting at the camp entrance to treat and transport the wounded.
Several Lebanese soldiers were injured after an artillery shell from the camp landed inside a military base and other army and observation posts came under fire, according to the Lebanese army.
“The Army Command warns of the consequences of exposing military posts and their personnel to danger, whatever the reasons, and stresses that the Army will respond to the sources of fire in kind,” the army said in a statement.