|Population (2003)||over 70,000|
|Time zone||EET (UTC+2)|
Ain al-Hilweh (variously, Ayn al-Hilweh, Ein al-Hilweh, etc.; the literal meaning is the eye of the beautiful (Arabic: عين الحلوة) is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon with over 70,000 refugees, located West of Mieh Mieh Village and Mieh Mieh Camp, Southeast of the port city of Sidon and North of Darb Es Sim village. Ein el-Hillweh was established near the city of Sidon in 1948 by the International Committee of the Red Cross to accommodate refugees from Amqa, Saffuriya, Sha'ab, Taitaba, Manshieh, al-Simireh, al-Nahr, Safsaf, Hittin, al-Ras al-Ahmar, al-Tira and Tarshiha in northern Palestine. The Ain Al-Hilweh Camp is located on land that is owned by landowners from Mieh Mieh village, Darb Es Sim, and Sidon. It was established in 1948 on a rental/lease basis. Because Lebanese Armed Forces are not allowed to enter the camp Ain al-Hilweh has been called a "zone of unlaw" by the Lebanese media. Many people wanted by the Lebanese government are believed to have taken refuge in the camp as a result of the lack of Lebanese authority.
The direct translation of Ain al-Hilweh is “sweet water spring”. People believe that the camp was named after a natural water spring that existed in the present day Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp. But the truth is, the Ain al-Hilweh spring was located at the corner of the valley between Mieh Mieh village and Darb es Seem. The water flowed from the spring westward 500 meters towards a man made dam. The dam was erected at the crossroad between Mieh Mieh and present day Seyroub neighborhood in Darb es Seem. The Palestinian camp is located between 1000 m to 1500 m to the West, away from the natural spring.
Emir Fakhr-al-Din II, (Fakhr-al-Din Ibn Mann, Fakhr-al-Din al Maani), was given the title "Emir" or Prince in Arabic because the Maan dynasty reigned over Lebanon at that time. Lebanon was divided into several emirates (the state or jurisdiction of an emir). So, there was an emirate out of several called, “Emirate of Ain al-Hilweh” and had an Emir. The emirate stretched Northwest from the Ain al-Hilweh spring, looped around the bottom of Mieh Mieh village along present day Officers’ Military Club straight North to the Barghout Creek (between Mieh Mieh and Haret Saida) and West to the Mediterranean Sea. From the South, the emirate stretched straight West to the Mediterranean Sea. So the present day Palestinian refugee camp got its name from the Emirate Ain al-Hilweh.
During the First Lebanon War (1982), the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) landed north of Sidon and the city was subjected to a heavy aerial bombing, causing heavy casualties among the civilian population. Dov Yermiya was to later liken the bombardment used on the refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh as of an intensity which recalled the quantity of bombs used in World War 2. The destruction was 100%. There was prolonged fighting in Ein el-Hilweh, culminating with the Palestinian defenders making a last stand at a mosque which was thereupon blown up by the IDF. Israeli historian Gil'ad Be'eri gives the following account
(...) The Refugee camps were heavily fortified, full of bunkers and fire positions. The Palestinian defence at Ein El Hilweh and other refugee camps was based on hand-carried anti-tank weapons such as the RPG (Rocket propelled grenade). (...) The IDF was not prepared for this kind of fighting, having at hand mainly armoured forces intended for use in open areas. The built-up area inhibited long-range weapons, created an equality between the tank and the RPG (often wielded by 13- or 14-year old boys), and increased the number of Israeli casualties. (...) Palestinian resistance seriously disrupted the timetable of the planned rapid advance to Beirut. It took eight days before the final crushing of resistance in Ein El Hilweh. The method adopted by the army was to use loud-speakers to call upon the civilian population to move away, search the houses one by one, surround points of remaining active resistance and subdue them by overwhelming fire.
Fatah take over of 1990
In the 1980s most Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon were dominated by Syrian-backed Palestinian groups. In the late 1980s members of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, after a being ousted in other refugee camps moved on to Ain al-Hilweh. After fighting a bloody three day conflict with the Abu Nidal Organization Fatah members were able to establish dominance in Ain al-Hilweh. However by 1993 another group led by Fatah's top military commander in the camp, Col. Mounir Maqdah known as the Black September 13 Brigade, with support from Hezbolla and Iran, gained dominance over mainstream Fatah members in the camp. Maqdahhad's dominance was short-lived as he rejoined Fatah in 1998 after the Palestinian Authority began funding the camp again. A Lebanese court convicted the leader of Fatah in Lebanon, Sultan Abu al-Aynayn, of "forming an armed gang" and sentenced him in absentia to death.
2003 Fatah and Osbat al-Nour conflict
In May 2003 fighting broke out between members of Osbat al-Nour and Fatah militia members in Ain al-Hilweh after the near-fatal shooting of Osbat al-Nour leader Abdullah Shraidi on May 17, in which one of Abdullah's bodyguards and a bystander were killed. The shooting occurred while returning from the funeral of a Fatah member and family relative, Ibrahim Shraidi who was gunned down by an unknown assailant. Roughly 200 Osbat al-Nour fundamentalist fighters attacked Fatah offices. Eight people were killed and 25 wounded in the fighting at Ain al-Hilweh. Schools in the Ain al-Hilweh camp were shut and most stores kept their shutters down at the height of the fighting, which provoked an exodus by hundreds of camp residents. Two months after the ambush Abdullah Shraidi died from wounds received during the attack. Fatah agreed to a ceasefire after failing to defeat the fundamentalists in the camp.
In July 2005 four members of the Islamic Liberation Party were arrested. The Lebanese authorities claimed that the group had connections with Syria and that the group has participated in terrorist attacks in various arab countries. Palestinian sources described the moves as a step toward the disarmament of their factions, in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559.
Clashes during the 2007 Lebanon conflict
On June 3, 2007, Jund al-Sham fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a Lebanese Army checkpoint near Sidon, prompting a response from the Lebanese Army leading to clashes in the camp. These clashes follow a tense three weeks in Lebanon's north, where the Lebanese Army has been battling militant group Fatah al-Islam at the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared.
- Nabatieh camp, destroyed between the years 1982-1991. Most of the population was moved to Ein el-Helweh.
- Palestinian refugee camps
- Naji al-Ali
- Ain al-Hilweh: Lebanon's "Zone of Unlaw" (June 2003)
- [Imc-beirut] Daily Star: Army beefs up security at Ain al-Hilweh
- James Ron,Frontiers and ghettos: state violence in Serbia and Israel, University of California Press, 2003, p.178.
- גלעד בארי, מלחמת לבנון - נגד פלסטין הקטנה Gil'ad Be'eri, "The Lebanon War" - "Confronting "Little Palestine" in Lebanon" at . Archived 2009-10-24.
- CLAO News
- Eight killed, 25 wounded in Lebanon refugee camp battle
- Four Islamic Liberation Party members arrested in Ain al-Hilweh | The Agonist
- Factions fight in Lebanese camp, 21 March 2008, BBC
- Ein el-Hilweh camp , articles from UNRWA
- watch "Isti'mariyah - windward between Naples and Baghdad"
- Zochrot action re al-Ras al-Ahmar refugees in Ain al-Hilweh