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Tensions in the camps escalated in the years before the civil war, particularly as rival Palestinian groups sought to consolidate their grip. In 1969, a violent power struggle between the Lebanese secret police and the P.L.O. ended when Palestinian commandos expelled the Lebanese police from the camps. Lebanese and Palestinian leaders later signed the Cairo Accords, which stipulated that the P.L.O. was responsible for security in the camps while barring Lebanese authorities from entering.

The accord eroded Christian confidence in the country’s central government.

Retaliatory killings in 1975, usually pitting Lebanese Phalange against Palestinian militia, sparked massacres and widespread fighting, including attacks on three refugee camps located in the Christian areas to the east and north of Beirut — Jisr el Basha, Tel el Zaatar and Dbayeh. Though the first to fall, Dbayeh was the only camp to survive the ruthless bloodletting that would mark Lebanon’s civil war:

“Two teachers from the secondary school and one from the primary school were killed,” reported Constantine Vlachopoulos, the Pontifical Mission’s executive director in a letter in February 1976 to CNEWA’s Msgrs. John G. Nolan and Edward C. Foster.

Hasan Ayoub, who heads UNRWA’s Dbayeh operations, added that when the Phalangists entered the camp, they killed its leaders. Grisly acts, including rape and decapitation, also have been recorded in oral testimonies of survivors by a Lebanese scholar at the Coll ège de France in Paris, Dr. Jihane Sfeir.

Once the violence abated, those Christian Palestinians who survived the destruction of Jisr el Basha trickled into Dbayeh. Another wave of displaced refugees fled to Dbayeh during the War of the Camps (1985-1988).

Dbayeh would witness another heavy round of violence in 1988, as Maronite General Michel Aoun, who commanded the Lebanese army, pounded the positions of the Lebanese Forces, the country’s largest Christian militia.

“The old school had become a Lebanese Forces base, so the army shelled it and everything around it,” Mr. Ayoub said. By the end of the war, more than 25 percent of the camp’s shelters were destroyed.

“Palestinians in Lebanon have paid a big price,” reflected Suhayl al-Natour.

“Their camps were systematically destroyed — first by Christian extremists, then by Shiite extremists and now, as we can see in Nahr el Bared, by Sunni extremists.”

Across from the UNRWA office, in the partially derelict school compound that Pontifical Mission, in partnership with UNRWA, built, funded and once administered, 10 youngsters were sitting in a semicircle rehearsing their First Communion. All wore white cassocks; wooden crosses hung around their necks while the girls wore gardenias in their hair. Men and women stood by, offering moral support. Among them was Sister Anita, a Little Sister of Nazareth, a community inspired by the French hermit Blessed Charles de Foucauld. While her two colleagues in Dbayeh are Belgian, Sister Anita is a native of Bshirri, a village in north Lebanon.

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Tags: Lebanon Palestine Refugee Camps Civil War