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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Fierce clashes rock Palestinian camp in Lebanon

At least two dead as Palestinian security forces battle radical militants at Ain Al Hilweh

Smoke rises from buildings in Ain Al Hilweh, Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, near the southern coastal city of Sidon, during clashes between Palestinian security forces and Islamist fighters on August 19, 2017. Mahmoud Zayyat / AFP
Smoke rises from buildings in Ain Al Hilweh, Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, near the southern coastal city of Sidon, during clashes between Palestinian security forces and Islamist fighters on August 19, 2017. Mahmoud Zayyat / AFP

Dozens of families fled Lebanon's largest on Saturday as clashes intensified between Palestinian security forces and radical Islamist gunmen.

Fierce gunfire and rocket fire could be heard as black smoke billowed over the Ain Al Hilweh camp near the southern port city of Sidon.

Two people were killed when the clashed began on Thursday, after gunmen from the small Islamist Badr group fired at a position of the security forces inside the camp, a Palestinian source said.

The clashes eased on Friday before intensifying again on Saturday.

The camp in Al Tiri district is a few metres from a Lebanese army position, but by long-standing convention, the Lebanese military does not enter Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, leaving the factions themselves to handle security.

The Badr group is linked to Bilal Badr, a militant wanted in connection with terrorism who has refused to surrender, according to a Lebanese security official.

In April, week-long clashes between his supporters and Palestinian security forces left nine dead and more than 50 wounded.

A joint Palestinian security force, comprising members of the key Fatah and Hamas factions, has strived for months to rein in Badr fighters.

Ain Al Hilweh, the most densely populated Palestinian camp in Lebanon, is home to about 61,000 Palestinians, including 6,000 who fled the war in neighbouring Syria.

Several armed factions including extremist groups have a foothold in the camp, which has been plagued for years by intermittent clashes.