BEIRUT (Reuters) – The head of powerful armed group Hezbollah called on Tuesday for a halt to days of deadly clashes that have raged between rival factions in the Palestinian camp of Ain el-Hilweh in southern Lebanon.
At least 11 people – most of them militants – have been killed in the camp since fighting broke out on Saturday between mainstream faction Fatah and hardline Islamists, security sources in the camp told Reuters.
“This fighting must not continue because its repercussions are bad – for the camp’s residents, for the dear Palestinian people… for the south, for all of Lebanon,” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address.
The United Nations agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) said at least 2,000 people have fled their homes in the camp and UNRWA activities were suspended due to the violence.
Negotiations between the rival factions have led to brief suspensions of fighting but have failed to secure a lasting ceasefire, with heavy clashes resuming on Tuesday.
Hezbollah, which controls southern Lebanon and is vehemently opposed to Israel, has ties to Palestinian factions and supports their cause.
Nasrallah on Tuesday said anyone who could “pressure, say a word, make contact, make an effort” to secure a truce should do so.
UNRWA estimates that up to 250,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian camps, which date back to the 1948 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The camps mainly lie outside the jurisdiction of Lebanese security services.
Nasrallah also ramped up his rhetoric on Tuesday against those burning copies of the Muslim holy book the Koran in Denmark and Sweden in recent weeks, saying the weak response from Muslim states had left believers wanting.
“There is no longer any meaning to waiting for anyone. You must take up this responsibility and punish these damned people with the strongest punishment,” Nasrallah said.
Hezbollah was founded in 1982 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and is classified by the United States and other Western countries as a terrorist organisation.
Last year, Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old Shi’ite Muslim American, was charged with the stabbing of Salman Rushdie, author of the 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses,” viewed by some Muslims as containing blasphemous passages.
Matar’s family originally hails from Yaroun, where Hezbollah has strong support. A Hezbollah official at the time said the group had no information on the attack and Nasrallah declined to comment directly on it.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Maya Gebeily; Editing by Alistair Bell)