BEIRUT: A Palestinian joint security force on Friday took control of a school complex in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp after gunmen who had occupied the site since late July withdrew.

The deployment was part of the second phase of a cease-fire agreement between the Fatah movement and extremist groups in mid-September.

Clashes between the rival Lebanese factions in late July left more than 30 people dead.
The force entered the UNRWA school complex, which became a battleground between the rival groups, as gunmen vacated the site.

The deployment raises hopes that the truce will hold and further ease tensions inside Ain Al-Hilweh, the largest of 12 Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

More than 75,000 refugees, including Palestinians who fled the Yarmouk camp in Syria, are housed in Ain Al-Hilweh in southern Lebanon.

The joint force consists of officers and military personnel from various Palestinian factions in the camp, including Hamas.

However, the security force and UNRWA now face a major clean-up, with the extent of damage becoming evident after the militants’ withdrawal from the school complex.

Unexploded grenades were found on the site and empty bullet casings littered the school playgrounds.
Rockets used in the clashes have left gaping holes in school walls.

The joint security force was divided into two groups. One entered the schools complex from the Al-Barakasat area, controlled by the Fatah movement, while the other entered from the Al-Tawarek-Al-Taameer area, controlled by the extremist groups, most prominently Al-Shabab Al-Muslim.

Representatives of the Palestinian Joint Action Committee in the Sidon area accompanied the force.
Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Al-Ajouri, who was commanding the force, gave the signal for the deployment, while Maj. Gen. Subhi Abu Arab, Palestinian national security commander, accompanied the operation.

UNRWA, which is monitoring the cease-fire, postponed the start of the new academic year in the Ain Al-Hilweh camp until further notice.

Schools in the rest of the region will resume teaching on Oct. 2.
More than 11,000 students attend schools in the camp, with the damaged school complex providing education to 5,900 students.

Dorothee Klaus, director of UNRWA affairs in Lebanon, said the safety of schools in the vicinity of Ain Al-Hilweh “is our top priority, and we are striving in every possible way to achieve that as soon as conditions permit.”

The agency is working to find alternatives so that children from the camp and surrounding areas can return to school as soon as possible, she said.

A preparatory meeting ahead of Friday’s deployment took place in the Sidon office of Sheikh Maher Hammoud, president of the International Union of Resistance Scholars, who is believed to be close to Hezbollah.

Representatives of Hamas and the Amal movement, an ally of Hezbollah, also attended.
Discussions took place on the possible handing over of eight suspects wanted for the assassination of Fatah leader Mohammed Al-Armoushi.

Representatives of Hamas and the Amal movement, an ally of Hezbollah, also attended.
As part of the cease-fire deal, the joint security force will prepare the way for those displaced by the fighting to return to their homes.

The final phase of the agreement involves the handover of wanted suspects.
A source dismissed rumors on social media on Thursday night that some of the wanted suspects had left the camp.

“There is an agreement that has been reached and it is fundamental, and the essential point is handing over wanted people,” the source said.

Hamas representative Ahmed Abdel Hadi described Friday’s deployment as “a step in the right direction,” adding that it stemmed from Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s initiatives to end the clashes.

Berri joined Palestine Liberation Organization leader Azzam Al-Ahmad and Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk in pushing for a cease-fire.

Source : Arab News

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