Lebanon + 1 more

Fighting continues, as more Palestinians flee Lebanon camp

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Beirut_(dpa) _ Sporadic fighting continued Thursday around the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, between the Lebanese army and militants from the Islamic Fatah al-Islam group, with the army tightening its siege.

Fighting between the army and Fatah al-Islam militants holed up inside Nahr el-Bared, located near the northern city of Tripoli, began easing off Wednesday, by sporadic shelling continued Thursday.

According to an army source, the army managed to make "significant advancement in the northern part of the camp," which tightened the siege on the camp and the militants and restricted their movements to a certain area in the camp.

"We would like to see all the civilians leave..we will not stop until those militants surrender," said an army source.

More camp residents fled the camp on Thursday. Volunteers from the Red Cross said over 500 people, mainly elderly and young men - some of them taken away for interrogation by the Lebanese army - have fled the camp since Sunday.

Around 38,000 of the camps original residents of 40,000 have left Nahr al-Bared camp since the fighting first broke out in the area on May 20.

The battle for the camp, Lebanon's bloodiest internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war, has claimed the lives of 138 people, including 61 soldiers.

The Lebanese authorities have demanded the unconditional surrender of the gunmen, who have vowed to fight to the death.

Fatah al-Islam was officially formed late last year. Its leader, veteran Palestinian guerrilla Shaker al-Abssi, says he shares the same ideology as al Qaeda. many of his men are foreign Arab fighters, some of whom have fought in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have expressed concerns about reports that the Lebanese army is physically abusing Palestinian men fleeing fighting between the Lebanese Army and Islamist extremists at camp.

"Lebanese troops can question Palestinians from Nahr al-Bared about Fatah al-Islam, but resorting to physical abuse is clearly against Lebanese law and international human-rights standards," said Sarah Leah Whitson of HRW.

In a statement, the watchdog agency added: "The government should also ensure that no Palestinians are subject to ill-treatment by the security forces, particularly when it appears to occur solely on the basis of their Palestinian identity."

"There are reports by some Palestinians that they are being punched, slapped and threatened by interrogators during questioning," said a Palestinian source who requested anonymity.

According to the source some Palestinian men have chosen to stay inside the camp then come out and being humiliated or questioned by the Lebanese army.

"The Lebanese government must ensure that civilians can leave Nahr al-Bared safely and without fear of illegal detention or abuse," Leah Whitson said. dpa wh bve

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