Sunday, June 03, 2007

Back from Ain el Helweh

Just came back from Ain el Helweh refugee camp in Saida, from where, earlier this evening, an islamist faction attacked a Lebanese army post.

Situation on Sunday around 22.00 (Lebanese time), as follows:

* It is more or less quiet in and around the camp. Although the situation remains rather tensed, wouldn't describe it as "explosive".

* Lots of army (APC's, light tanks and checkpoints) in the direct vicinity of the refugee camp, which houses between 60.000 and 80.000 Palestinians. Saw around 6 APC's with fresh troops parked at a roundabout, couple of hundred meters from the northern entrance to Ain el Helweh. 10 kms before Saida, just off the main Beirut-Saida highway, the army has set up a checkpoint.

* Around 150 to 250 Palestinian civilians have gathered in the garden of the city hospital, in the center of Saida. Most of them families (lots of kids), who fled the fighting. Except for the confrontation between the islamists and the Lebanese Army (on the outskirts of the camp), there were clashes -inside - between the mainstream Fatah (PLO) and the islamists. Fatah seems to be - for now - more or less in control. Nevertheless, the Palestinian families told me they will spend the night in the garden of the hospital. The Lebanese authorities are thinking of housing them tonight or tomorrow in nearby schools. There might be more refugees (actually these Palestinians are already refugees, so this situation makes them double ones) in the city, but I only saw and spoke to the people in the garden of the hospital. Luckily it's pretty nice weather (around 22 degrees C), so no major drama there. Still, people told me they are very scared the situation here might deteriorate and turn into a second Nahr al Bared-crisis.

(Picture above: Lebanese woman with child passes hospital garden in Saida where around 200 Palestinian civilians took refuge after fighting erupted in the Ain el Helweh refugee camp - copyright picture: Harald Doornbos)

Harald Doornbos

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