Lebanon + 1 more

Lebanese Army clashes with militants in 2nd Palestinian refugee camp

By Margaret Besheer

Beirut, 04 June 2007 - Lebanese troops continued fighting Islamic militants in a northern Palestinian refugee camp and clashed with another group in a southern camp Monday. The new violence has sparked concerns that the fighting that began three weeks ago in the northern camp could spread to more of Lebanon's 12 refugee camps. From Beirut, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

As the Lebanese Army kept up its offensive against Fatah al-Islam militants near the northern city of Tripoli, a new front was opened about 100 kilometers to the south.

Gun battles first flared Sunday evening in the southern city of Sidon, near Ein al-Hilweh, Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, after militants from another group, Jund al-Sham, threw a hand grenade at an army checkpoint wounding five people.

Sporadic fighting continued overnight and resumed briefly Monday. Authorities say two Lebanese soldiers and two militants were killed in the clashes.

Sidon's residents stayed indoors and the city's usually bustling streets were quiet as many shops closed for the day.

Concerns have been high that fighting would spread to one or more of Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps since the army took on Islamic militants at the northern Nahr el-Bared camp 16 days ago. Fighting at that camp has displaced thousands of Palestinians who have relocated to some of the country's 11 other refugee camps.

Lebanese parliament member from Sidon, Bahia Hariri, said Palestinian officials and the Lebanese army are working to quickly contain the situation.

Hariri told Lebanese television that there is a Lebanese-Palestinian decision not to let this escalate because it would have severe repercussions for both sides.

On Monday, Fatah al-Islam deputy commander Abu Hureira told the Associated Press his group would spread its battle with the Lebanese army to the southern Ein el-Hilweh camp. About 200,000 refugees live at Ein el-Hilweh.

Meanwhile, at Nahr el-Bared, the army continued its assault on Fatah al-Islam, cautiously advancing on the militants' positions inside the camp.

In a telephone interview Sunday, Fatah al-Islam spokesman Abu Salim Taha claimed his fighters are well-prepared and can continue fighting the army for a couple of months.

More than 40 Lebanese troops and an estimated 60 militants have been killed since the fighting erupted last month at Nahr el-Bared. About 20 civilians are also believed to have been killed in the clashes.