Lebanon + 1 more

Fighting eases at camp in north Lebanon

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Ali Ghamloush

NAHR AL-BARED, Lebanon, June 5 (Reuters) - Fighting eased on Tuesday between the Lebanese army and Islamist militants at a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, battleground for the country's worst internal violence since the civil war.

Intermittent bursts of gunfire and shell explosions were heard through the night at the Nahr al-Bared camp where Fatah al-Islam militants are holed up.

Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said on Monday night there would be no halt to military action until Fatah al-Islam surrendered and said the group had sustained a "major blow" with the deaths of several leaders and large number of militants.

At least 114 people have been killed in the fighting, including 46 soldiers. The army says Fatah al-Islam triggered the conflict when it attacked army positions on May 20.

Fatah al-Islam on Monday buried 10 fighters at the camp but it was not known when they were killed, Palestinian sources said.

The army, stretched by deployment last year in south Lebanon, lost two more soldiers in fighting with another Islamist group, Jund al-Sham, at Ain al-Hilweh camp in south Lebanon on Monday.

Members of Jund al-Sham could be seen in the streets but without weapons. Palestinians who fled the fighting began returning home on Tuesday, witnesses said.

Aridi said Jund al-Sham, a hardline Islamist group made up of Lebanese and Palestinians, had been told by Fatah al-Islam to attack the army.

Neither Jund al-Sham or Fatah al-Islam have much support among Palestinians in Lebanon, who number some 400,000.

The groups have been able to operate in Palestinian camps beyond the reach of the Lebanese state which is not allowed to send forces there under a 1969 Arab agreement.

The army has not entered the camp's official boundaries but captured militants' positions on the outskirts during an intense assault lasting from Friday to Sunday.

About 27,000 of Nahr al-Bared's 40,000 refugees have fled, many of them to the nearby Beddawi camp. UNRWA, the U.N. agency that cares for Palestinians, has launched an appeal for $12.7 million to meet the urgent needs of those displaced from Nahr al-Bared.

Up to 7,000 Palestinians may still be in Nahr al-Bared, where streets are littered with unexploded ammunition, said Virginia Dela Guardia, spokeswoman for The International Committee of the Red Cross. (Additional reporting by Nadim Ladki and Tom Perry in Beirut)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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