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Security Council joins UN concern at refugee camp violence in Lebanon

Security Council joins UN concern at refugee camp violence in Lebanon

Nahr el-Bared refugee camp
The Security Council and the United Nations human rights chief today added their voices to mounting UN concern over the fate of civilians caught in the fighting between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam gunmen at a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon.

In a statement to the press read out by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad of the United States, which holds the rotating presidency this month, Council members expressed deep concern at the violence at Nahr el-Bared camp, where more than 60 people have been killed and numerous others injured since clashes erupted on Sunday.

The statement called the actions of the Fatah al-Islam gunmen “an unacceptable attack on Lebanon’s stability, security and sovereignty” and stressed the need to protect and provide aid to the camp’s civilian population.

Nahr el-Bared is home to nearly 31,000 people, including about 8,000 classified by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) as special hardship cases. About 10,000 have now fled to the nearby Beddawi refugee camp or to a stadium in the city of Tripoli, where UNRWA is spearheading aid efforts.

In a separate statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said she was distressed by the reports of civilian deaths and injuries, adding that all sides to the fighting have an obligation to exercise precaution and protect civilians.

“The protection from attack for humanitarian workers and medical personnel and their unrestricted access to civilians are also guaranteed under the principles of international humanitarian law,” her statement noted.

“The shelling of an UNRWA convoy yesterday is unacceptable,” she added, referring to the attack against a group of six vehicles from UNRWA that was attempting to deliver and distribute supplies such as milk, bread and medicines to the besieged civilians.

No UNRWA staff members were killed, but UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes told reporters today that some civilian bystanders were casualties. Three vehicles were also badly damaged and some of the humanitarian supplies were destroyed.

Mr. Holmes and UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd said they acknowledged the Lebanese army’s need to deal with the Fatah al-Islam gunmen, but wanted them to act with maximum restraint when operating in camp areas with civilians.

They called for humanitarian workers to be granted safe access to the camp so that they can assess and attend to the dead and injured and establish safe corridors for those wanting to flee.

In response to questions, Ms. Koning AbuZayd said Palestinian residents of the camp – which is self-policed – had told UNRWA staffers that the Fatah al-Islam gunmen were foreign nationals unconnected to them.

Today’s Security Council statement also condemned the latest bomb attacks in Beirut, which have led to the death of one person and several injuries.

The 15-member panel “welcomed the determination of the Lebanese Government to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of those and other terrorist attacks. There must be no impunity for such heinous attacks.”

Noting that the Council of the Arab League had also condemned the attacks, Council members “reiterated their unequivocal condemnation of any attempt to destabilize Lebanon, and underlined their readiness to continue to act in support of the legitimate and democratically elected Government of Lebanon. They appealed to all Lebanese to continue to maintain national unity in the face of such attempts to undermine the country’s stability.”

Today’s statements follow similar remarks yesterday from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNRWA’s Director in Lebanon Richard Cook, who each voiced grave concern about the situation inside Nahr el-Bared for civilians and on the attack against the convoy.