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Fighting has turned half of Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp “a hot area,” the UN says

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Days of fighting in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp have displaced several hundred families, destroyed up to 400 homes and half of the camp remains off limits and considered “a hot area,” a senior official said. UN official Thursday. .

Dorothee Klaus, director of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, said she was able to visit part of the Ein el-Hilweh camp for the first time earlier this week and met traumatized children and women, some of whom were white during the flight. became. hostilities.

Clashes between members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group and militants from Islamic groups in Ein el-Hilweh near the southern port city of Sidon, which began on July 30 and ended on August 3, left 13 dead and dozens injured.

Klaus said that “the camp remains unstable” while the Lebanese army is blocking access to half of the camp because armed fighters are still positioned there and it is not safe even though hostilities have ceased.

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She told UN journalists on a video press conference that the UN agency, known as UNRWA, has reopened services in about 50% of the camp, including a health center, but a school complex for more than 3,000 children was also damaged.

“We have collected waste, disinfected it and started clearing debris,” she said, and when the other half of the camp reopens, we will be the first to remove unexploded ordnance and remnants of war.

Ein el-Hilweh, home to more than 50,000 Palestinian refugees, is one of dozens of refugee camps in Lebanon. The country has between 200,000 and 250,000 Palestinian refugees, half of whom live in camps and the rest nearby, she said.

Violent clashes are a regular occurrence and many camps have been destroyed several times, Klaus said, pointing to past clashes in Ein el-Hilweh in March.

She said the violence “must be understood in the context of multiple displacements” that Palestinian refugees have faced in Lebanon over the past 75 years. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled what is now Israel following the UN’s partition of British-ruled Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states in 1948.

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Refugees in Lebanon are still not allowed to work in middle-class professions such as doctors, lawyers and engineers and they are not allowed to own property, so all those who have studied have migrated “leaving very vulnerable populations behind,” Klaus said.

She said 50% of men over 16 are unemployed, the rest have sporadic work and 80% of refugees live in poverty.

“So it is indeed a very desperate picture for a community that has very few positive prospects after 75 years,” Klaus said. “It’s a population that’s very depressed, and that stems from a feeling of being very helpless,” which often translates into aggression, self-destructive behavior, including substance abuse, or domestic violence.

The impact of the most recent violence is that the refugee community has been traumatized again, she said, and continues to suffer from “very high rates of non-communicable diseases that we attribute to very high levels of stress.”

Klaus said UNRWA needs $12 million to provide cash assistance to 65% of the refugees, which she said would be “an important stabilizing factor”, especially at a time when Lebanon is facing a major economic crisis.

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Can anything be done to prevent another violent confrontation in the refugee camps?

“Every crisis is an opportunity to build a roadmap to avoid this,” Klaus said. “We are counting on a high-level meeting between different Palestinian parties and the Lebanese next week, in which we will also participate, looking at some mechanisms for the rehabilitation and reconstruction process – and some of these questions will certainly be asked. ”

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