Violence in several neighborhoods in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince worsened this week as rival gangs battled each other for control.
At least 20 people have been killed in gang violence, including a family of eight with children, police said on Thursday.
Another two dozen people had been injured since Sunday when fighting between gangs first escalated, police said.
Gangs have ramped up their battle for control over areas beyond their poorer neighborhoods as a political vacuum continues.
The crisis emerged after former President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in July last year.
Homes burned, thousands displaced
At least a dozen homes were burned down in the latest episode of fighting in the northern neighborhoods of the capital and thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes, the Associated Press (AP) news agency reported.
Many of the families, mostly with children, have taken temporary shelter at a park near a local mayor's office, AP reported.
Schools and businesses remain closed in the area.
Jean Raymond Dorcely, an organizer of a grassroots organization told AP about the poor conditions of the families — he could see children crying but families didn't have anything to offer them.
"They had to leave with nothing in their hands," Dorcely said.
A round fired during fighting also hit an empty United Nations Humanitarian Air Service helicopter stationed near the airport, authorities said.
Fighting blamed on two rival gangs
The Haitian civil protection agency laid the blame on two primary rivals — the Chen Mechan and 400 Mawozo.
The 400 Mawozo is a notorious armed gang that is known for theft and kidnapping, operating in the area around the capital.
They were behind the abduction of 17 members of a US missionary group — 16 US citizens and a Canadian national — who were visiting an orphanage in the country in October 2021.
All hostages were freed by December after a process of negotiations between Haitian authorities and the FBI.
Civic groups condemn violence, warn of escalation
Haiti's Citizen Protection Office (OPC) condemned violence in a statement on Thursday and criticized political leaders for their inaction.
It said that the leaders' silence has brought a "form of cynicism or contempt for human rights, particularly the right to life and security."
The fighting is centered around the area with the only road between Port-au-Prince and Dominican Republic as well as the only one leading to the north of the country.
Authorities have warned about a possible loss of access to the northern part of the country if fighting intensified.
Gang violence in the Martissant community in the southern part of Port-au-Prince has already cut off access to the country's southern region.
Haiti's civil protection agency also warned that violence could escalate in the coming days and could lead to further casualties and displace more people.
rm/kb (AP, AFP)