Lebanon + 1 more

Lebanon: Emergency workers struggle to evacuate injured as fighting in Palestinian camp rages

TRIPOLI, 21 May 2007 (IRIN) - Emergency aid workers have been fired upon as they struggle to evacuate injured and dead Palestinians from Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in north Lebanon as fighting between the Lebanese Army and militants from Fatah al-Islam continued into a second day.

Saeed Taweyee, an emergency relief coordinator with the Palestinian Red Crescent (PRC), told IRIN that on Sunday his ambulance was fired on twice as it entered Nahr al-Bared, where Islamist militants have been battling army troops in the worst internal violence to hit Lebanon since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war. The Lebanese army has not confirmed the incident, in which Taweyee was injured in the neck by a bullet he said was fired from Lebanese army positions in Abdee, on the outskirts of the camp.

Nahr al-Bared is home to over 40,000 Palestinian refugees who are currently living in siege conditions without electricity, water or fresh food, after the Lebanese army surrounded the camp and opened fire with tanks and snipers on positions held by Fatah al-Islam militants.

Two mosques inside the camp were hit by what residents and the Lebanese Red Cross (LRC) said was fire from Lebanese tanks. The LRC reported that four civilians had been killed and two seriously injured in one of these incidents. In the other, doctors from the PRC said civilians remained trapped beneath the rubble.

Khaled Ayubi, spokesman for the LRC, told IRIN that up until 7am on Monday morning the agency had recorded 25 deaths and 36 wounded. The LRC has 50 aid workers and 15 ambulances on the ground, with a further 90 aid workers and 15 ambulances ready. The PRC are currently using just one ambulance.

By Monday evening, the death toll for militants, soldiers and civilians rose to 70, according to local reports.

Fathallah Deeb, director of the medical centre in Nahr al-Bared, said there were 55 cases of dead and injured in the camp, and that they were mostly civilians, including children.

"The general situation is miserable"

"The general situation is miserable. We cannot evacuate all the injured and some people are bleeding to death," said Dr Yousef Assad of the Safad Hospital in Bedawi refugee camp, 10 km from Nahr al-Bared, where PRC emergency workers have evacuated 11 injured civilians.

According to local reporters, at least 100 homes had been damaged or destroyed since the heavy fighting broke out yesterday at dawn. Across the camp, residents were reportedly sheltering in underground bunkers as heavy fire continued.

On Sunday, the LRC did not enter the camp, but on Monday began evacuating the dead and injured after a two-hour truce came into force at 4pm. The PRC has delivered bread and medical supplies to the camp.

At of the time of the truce, only eight out of 24 beds in the local Safed hospital were free, with many more casualties expected as aid workers accessed the camp. The hospital is already rapidly running out of resources to deal with the influx of injured from the camp.

Many children have been among the injured, including Manal Tohan, an 18-year-old, whose house in the camp was hit by heavy fire on Sunday morning. She suffered shrapnel wounds to her abdomen and lay recovering in Safad hospital after undergoing emergency surgery.

"It's too much for us. Fatah Islam are criminals. We have no water, food or medical supplies," said Saada Tohan, Manal's mother.

Among Lebanese neighbours of the Nahr al-Bared camp, there was general support for the actions of the Lebanese army, despite the civilian causalities that have been incurred.

"If the Palestinians didn't host a group like Fatah al-Islam from the beginning, they wouldn't be suffering these causalities now," said Ahmed Wahabe, a mechanic from Minyeh, a town 2km from the camp.