(photo credit: AP)
Some 100 Palestinian families returned to a devastated refugee camp in northern Lebanon on Wednesday, the first individuals allowed back months after they fled fighting between the army and Islamic militants.
Lebanese troops defeated the al-Qaida-inspired Fatah Islam group on Sept. 2, more than three months after clashes began, but authorities had held off on allowing the more than 30,000 refugees who lived in Nahr el-Bared camp to return as they cleared the area of explosives.
The families that returned Wednesday had been living in the nearby Beddawi refugee camp, which became a sanctuary for former residents of Nahr el-Bared after the fighting erupted.
Army troops set up checkpoints at the camp's eastern entrance where they verified the names of individuals moving back and searched their cars and bodies for weapons.
The army search enraged Hannan Raed Akel, 35, who was waiting with her husband and three children in a pickup truck loaded with mattresses, canned food and personal belongings.
"Why didn't they search Fatah Islam men when they first entered Nahr el-Bared?" she screamed.
The 100 families are the first batch of about 800 that will be allowed to return to a section of Nahr el-Bared known as the "new camp" at a rate of 100 families per day, said Palestinian and Lebanese military officials.
Eventually, some 2,000 families will be permitted to return to the camp, Sheik Mohammed al-Haj of the Palestinian Scholars' Association told The Associated Press while overseeing the repatriation process.
Large parts of Nahr el-Bared, located on the outskirts of the northern port city of Tripoli, were destroyed by tank and artillery bombardment during the fighting. The government has promised to rebuild the camp, but reconstruction has not yet started.
Akel said she had been notified by relatives that her house in the camp was so badly damaged that she won't be able to live there.
"I am happy with the return but sad because I can't live in my house," she said.
More than 200 Fatah Islam militants of various nationalities, 168 soldiers and some 40 civilians were killed in clashes that started May 20 and became the worst internal fighting Lebanon had witnessed since the 1975-90 civil war.