Massive exodus of Palestinians refugees after lull


Tripoli (Lebanon) : A fragile truce that went into effect after three days of violent clashes between an alleged Islamist group and the Lebanese army has ignited a massive exodus of Palestinians from a refugee camp in northern Lebanon.

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Women, children and elderly people waving white flags were leaving the camp in cars and trucks Tuesday night.

Those without cars fled on foot from the Nahr al-Bared camp to take shelter in the nearby Palestinian refugee camp of Bedawi.

"We are leaving because the situation is unbearable… our children are hungry and our elderly are sick," said Hasna, a Palestinian woman who was wounded slightly in the leg Sunday night.

"It is our fate to witness exodus… since 1948 (when Israel was established)… we have been slaughtered and punished either by the Israelis or by some of the Arab countries," a woman clad in black said as she hid her face from the media cameras.

"I have lost my sister and her husband in this violence… and god knows about my other relatives who are still inside the camp," she added.

Witnesses leaving the camp said some dead bodies remained in the streets of the camp, while hospitals and clinics are full of wounded.

"The siege and the fighting made a lot of civilians die from their wounds because of lack of medical supplies," said Omar Kenan, a doctor inside the camp.

"I can only tell you the situation is critical… if the fighting continues there will be a serious humanitarian crisis inside the camp," he added.

Families were being invited to stay the night in houses in Bedawi and others who could not find shelter were planning to move to camps in Beirut and southern Lebanon.

"Our homes, hospitals and schools are open for our brothers," said Abu Ahmed, a Fatah official in the Bedawi camp, which is now crowded with refugees.

The exodus began several hours after the Sunni Muslim group Fatah al-Islam declared a unilateral ceasefire.

Spokesman Abu Salim said it would go into effect at 1130 GMT, but 40 minutes later, machinegun fire broke the fragile ceasefire.

Fatah al-Islam has warned that "if the bombardments of the army resume, we will respond".

But the truce had been holding since the afternoon, and as night fell silence prevailed over the deserted northern entrance of Nahr al-Bard.

"We have no water, no electricity, no medical supplies," said Ahmed, a Palestinian Red Crescent volunteer. "It is a tragedy inside the camp."

UN trucks had managed to deliver food, medical supplies and generators in the afternoon.

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), their convoy came under fire as they tried to enter the camp shortly after the ceasefire went into effect.

UN workers who were able to enter the camp in the afternoon said those inside the camp are "in a state of shock and fear".

The violence that started Sunday was described as the bloodiest internal clashes since the 1975-1990 civil war and has raised fears that it could spread to other Palestinian camps in Lebanon.

There are some 367,000 Palestinians living in 12 refugee camps across Lebanon.

The spokesman of the mainstream Fatah movement warned that continued shelling of Nahr al-Bared could trigger an uprising by refugees in other camps.

"No Palestinian or Palestinian faction in Lebanon will accept seeing the Palestinian people slaughtered in a collective punishment as is happening in Nahr al-Bared," Sultan Abul Aynian said.

Lebanese security forces Tuesday chased militants inside the northern port city of Tripoli, where a Fatah al-Islam militant blew himself up during a raid on an apartment that had seen earlier fighting.

According to army and Palestinian sources, 30 soldiers and 20 militants have been killed along with at least 27 Palestinian refugees in the fighting.