Witness: A crisis is unfolding in Ain al-Hilweh camp and call for the wise to prevent the disaster
















A crisis is unfolding in Ain al-Hilweh camp and call for the wise to prevent the disaster

A Human Rights Report documents the last fight in Ain al-Hilweh

September 2023

Executive Summary




Ain al-Hilweh, known as the capital of Palestinian diaspora, is the home to a significant Palestinian population for its various political, demographic, and geographic importance. The latest clashes sounded sirens in the camp alarming for ominous consequences that may destroy the camp and subject its inhabitants to a national and existential catastrophe in light of the economic and political difficult conditions afflicting Lebanon and the region.

Therefore, the Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness) issued a report that objectively highlights the unfortunate events that the camp went through, and at the same time calls on wise people to seek reasonable solutions, through a human rights approach, that preserve security while maintaining the rights of the camp residents.

Ain al-Hilweh is one of the largest Palestinian refugees’ camps that plays a central role in the economic, political, and social aspects and is an integral part of Palestinians history. The overpopulation that’s estimated to 70 thousand living in a 1 km² camp has resulted in negative social consequences in addition to security, psychological, and economic pressure on inhabitants in the absence of an effective political and security authority.

The security interaction between successive Lebanese governments and Palestinian refugees in the camp has created a state of anger and despair among them, accompanied by a constant feeling of suspicion. This has exacerbated existing problems, fostering a climate of heightened tension, mistrust, and discontent. The issue of the wanted individuals has had a serious impact on the camp; prompting inquiries into the methods by which these individuals entered the camp, why they are receiving certain forms of support therein, and what strategies can be implemented to address this issue with minimum cost possible.

With various Palestinian factions coexisting in the camp, a political framework called the "Palestinian Joint Action Committee" was formed to address the issues of Palestinian refugees. Additionally, two popular committees were established within the camp to address the service and demand-related problems of Palestinian refugees residing there. As for the recurring security issues, a joint security force was formed in March 2017, consisting of 100 officers and personnel.

Recent clashes in Ain al-Hilweh:

On the 29th of July, 2023, without any prior warning, a commonly known as "Al-Somali," Muhammad Zobeidat initiated gunfire towards 3 individuals closely affiliated with the faction "Jund al-Sham" as they were passing by Al-Jamiza neighborhood. Zobeidat justified his actions as an act of vengeance in response to the killing of his brother, Mahmoud, in March 2023. This incident resulted in the killing of Abdulrahman Farhood, and the injury of Issa Jamal Hamad, Mahmoud Khalil, known as "Abu Qatada," in addition to 3 young children who happened to be passing by at the time, leaving them injured as well. The security situation within the camp became increasingly tense, resulting in limited armed clashes erupting in various neighborhoods of the camp. In an effort to mitigate the repercussions of these events, the Islamist factions decided to bury Farhood on the following day and hand over the killer. However, the Zobeidat family insisted on not surrendering their son, the perpetrator, to the joint security force.

Then, on July 30,2023, the National Security Forces Commander in Sidon, Achraf Al Armouchi was killed in an ambush along with 4 of his aides while heading to his office in the camp. Following the incident, the security situation erupted violently, and events unfolded dramatically. Clashes continued until the early hours of Thursday, August 3, 2023. Heavy weaponry and machine guns were used, originating from the positions of the National Security Forces in Jabal al-Halib and Al-Baraksat, targeting the neighborhoods of Hatin, Sifsaf, Ras al-Ahmar, Al-Tawarri, and Al-Tameer.

Material losses and human casualties of the clashes:

As clashes intensified, most of the camp residents fled under a hail of bullets and heavy shelling to nearby areas outside the camp where UNRWA had to open its schools in Miye ou Miye camp and Sidon to accommodate them.

The (Witness) team conducted a two-day inspection tour of the Ain al-Hilweh camp, during which they met with various Palestinian factions, popular committees, and neighborhood committees. Everyone expressed their dissatisfaction with these recurring events, which exceeded expectations this time due to the indiscriminate use of heavy weapons and rockets, resulting in the destruction of a large number of homes, mosques, and buildings.

In a report, (Witness) has recorded the names of those who were killed, reporting a death toll of 12 individuals and 61 people injured, with the majority being civilians. The report highlighted the key medical associations and institutions that operated during the conflicts and the medical services they provided.

The initial findings presented in the report indicate that the material damages are extensive. However, accurately assessing and quantifying these losses seems challenging due to the ongoing tension in the camp and the military presence in conflict zones. Nonetheless, based on preliminary estimates, it is believed that more than 700 homes and commercial establishments are partially or completely destroyed. Moreover, infrastructure and other properties have also been affected. Field assessments suggest that reconstructions of damaged properties approximately costs 30 million USD.

Witness stated that the customary principles of international humanitarian law were violated during the clashes. Civilian objects were directly targeted, stressing that the militants’ ignorance of the principles of international humanitarian law does not in any way exempt them from bearing criminal responsibility for their actions.

Political Palestinian and Lebanese endeavors to solve the crisis:

Since the early moments of the events unfolding in the camp, some Lebanese parties and Palestinian factions rushed to contain the situation and halt the destructive project in the camp. Several meetings were held with the participation of the Palestinian Joint Action Committee, the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, Lebanese security agencies, Member of Parliament Dr. Osama Saad, Mufti of Sidon Sheikh Salim Sousan, and representatives of the Amal Movement. During these meetings, the assassinations were condemned, and the demand to uncover the perpetrators of these acts was made. The immediate cessation of gunfire and its consolidation, as well as the withdrawal of armed individuals from the streets, were emphasized. Efforts were focused on providing a secure environment for the return of all displaced persons. The participants emphasized that what is happening in the Ain al-Hilweh camp could be a prelude to dangerous projects.

The head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, made a series of contacts with various Palestinian and Lebanese political parties to contain the crisis, calling for the need to make more efforts to stop the clashes in Ain al-Hilweh camp and stabilize it.

Based on the efforts made, on August 1,2023, a delegation from the Palestinian Joint Action Committee in Lebanon entered Ain al-Hilweh camp. The committee formed a field team to implement the ceasefire and immediately tasked the appointed investigative committee with its work to uncover those involved in the crime and present them to the Lebanese security and judicial authorities, completing its mission as quickly as possible and submitting its report to the Palestinian Joint Action Committee. After its efforts, the committee provided a summary of the investigation results regarding the two assassination incidents, naming eight suspected individuals. However, the situation remained unresolved as the Palestinian Action Committee had not yet established a mechanism to hand over the suspects to the Lebanese security agencies. Consequently, the security tension persisted, and armed elements continued to maintain their positions in the area.

The report of the Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness) recommends the following:

·Avoid violence in conflict resolution, resort to dialogue, and preserve the camp and its residents as a national identity for the Palestinian presence in Lebanon.

·Withdraw all armed individuals from neighborhoods and alleys, and remove all armed manifestations, including barricades, barriers, obstacles, and others.

·Stopping the process of arming and barricades, and open closed neighborhoods to facilitate the return of their residents.

·Avoid violence and resort to dialogue in conflict resolution.

·Immediate withdrawal from UNRWA schools to be rehabilitated for the new academic year.

·Work to survey the damage to homes, shops, and cars, and quickly rebuild them before the fall and compensate their owners for their losses.

·Work to facilitate the return of the displaced to their homes as quickly as possible, and restore normal life to the camp.

·UNRWA intensifies efforts to secure funding for the reconstruction of damaged homes, schools, and other facilities.

·The Palestinian Joint Action Committee remains in permanent session to implement the terms of the ceasefire, remove all pretexts causing tension, and deal with the file of those suspected of committing assassinations wisely and responsibly.


Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness)

Beirut, September 2, 2023