7 Lebanon gunmen surrender to Fatah

Military assault on camp continues amid Palestinian efforts to end fighting.

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June 5, 2007 14:59
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Lebanese troops pounded Islamic gunmen hiding in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon on Tuesday, on the fifth straight day of the military's sustained assault to crush the Fatah al-Islam fighters. Meanwhile, seven Fatah al-Islam members surrendered to the mainstream Palestinian faction of Fatah in the southern parts of the besieged Nahr el-Bared refuge camp near his northern port city, a Palestinian commander said. It was the first sign that a major Palestinian faction - in this case the Fatah group of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas - responded to calls by Lebanese authorities to actively campaign against the al-Qaida inspired Fatah al-Islam. From his base in the southern Ein el-Hilweh Palestinian camp, Fatah commander Maj.-Gen. Khaled Aref told The Associated Press that the seven in Nahr el-Bared came over to Fatah positions there, handed over their weapons and pledged to stay out of the fighting. Aref also said that Fatah was trying to convince Palestinian residents of the camp who had sided with the gunmen to abandon the fight wreaking destruction on their homes. After an overnight lull, fighting in Nahr el-Bared resumed Tuesday, with exchanges of heavy gunfire and sporadic explosions ringing out from the camp. Troops shelled the gunmens' hideouts with artillery fire, sending up plumes of white and gray smoke. Since Friday, when the army launched its offensive to drive the insurgents out, periods of lull and fierce fighting have alternated at the Nahr el-Bared camp and its outskirts. The army stepped up its offensive against the militants, who have embraced an al-Qaida-style doctrine, rejected government demands to surrender and vowed to fight to the death. More than 100 people have been reported dead since the fighting first broke out May 20 between the army and Fatah al-Islam. It is the worst internal violence since the end of Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war. On Monday, the insurgents clashed with Lebanese troops in the Ein el-Hilweh camp - which is Lebanon's single largest Palestinian camp - threatening to open a new flashpoint that could complicate the military effort to defeat Fatah al-Islam. Two government soldiers and one of the gunmen were reported killed in the fighting at Ein el-Hilweh, in the southern city of Sidon, which began when the Jund al-Sham group attacked army outposts late Sunday. But on Tuesday, Ein el-Hilweh remained calm. A security force made up of Palestinian Islamic factions that was set up to prevent further Jund al-Sham frictions with the army, was expected to deploy in the camp's neighborhoods that were the scene of Monday's clashes. The bombardment of Nahr el-Bared has angered Palestinians in some of Lebanon's 11 other refugee camps and there were fears that fighting could spread. Ten soldiers have been killed and 44 wounded at Nahr el-Bared since Friday. Army casualties since the fighting began stood at 45 dead at Nahr el-Bared and two at Ein el-Hilweh. About 60 Fatah al-Islam operatives were also reported killed. At least 20 civilians have been reported dead at Nahr el-Bared, but recent civilian casualties were unknown. About 5,000 Palestinian refugees - and a couple of hundred gunmen - are believed to be still in Nahr el-Bared.


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