3 LAF troops die in refugee camp blast

Number of dead in clashes between troops, Fatah Islam militants reaches 79.

By
June 23, 2007 16:51
3 LAF troops die in refugee camp blast

lebanese camp 298.88. (photo credit: AP [file])

 
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Three Lebanese soldiers were killed and a fourth was critically injured on Saturday while dismantling a bomb placed by al-Qaida-inspired Islamic militants in a northern Palestinian refugee camp, officials said. The deadly blast occurred as the army was dismantling bombs, booby traps and land mines inside the camp, reported a senior military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Saturday's fatalities bring to 79 the number of soldiers killed in the battle against Fatah Islam militants holed up in the Nahr el-Bared camp near the port city of Tripoli. More than 150 have been wounded since fighting erupted on May 20. Heavy machine gun fire and bursts of artillery shells reverberated across the camp Saturday and sent up plumes of black and white smoke. The state-run National News Agency said the army was responding to gunfire attacks on its positions around the camp and was pounding suspected militant hideouts deep inside the camp with artillery barrages. Later Saturday, a gun battle broke out in the Abu Samra neighborhood of Tripoli as Lebanese security officials searched for a suspected militant, a security official reported. He did not say if there were any casualties. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said a second suspected militant had been arrested earlier in the day during a raid on a house in Tripoli. He did not specify whether the militants were suspected members of Fatah Islam. Prior to Saturday evening, fighting had not occurred in Tripoli since the first week of the conflict with Fatah Islam. The army issued a statement Saturday saying it would not halt its military offensive until "those responsible for the deaths of soldiers are brought to justice." Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr declared victory over the militants Thursday, and the army said the next day it had overrun Fatah Islam's main positions inside the camp. But sporadic fighting has continued, and two top Fatah Islam leaders, Shaker al-Absi and his deputy, Abu Hureira, are still at large, along with an unknown number of fighters. They are believed to be holed up among the several thousand Palestinian civilians still inside sections of Nahr el-Bared not under army control. Adding to the confusion, a Muslim cleric who has been acting as a mediator between the militants and the army, said earlier this week that the Fatah Islam fighters had agreed to stop firing. Sheik Mohammed Haj of the Palestinian Scholars Association met with the militants' leaders during the week and later said that Fatah Islam "has declared a cease-fire and will comply with the Lebanese army's decision to end military operations." He said the militants would abide by conditions set by the army to end the fighting, but did not elaborate. TV stations and newspapers said the deal included handing over Fatah Islam's wounded and dismantling the group. However, Lebanese authorities have said they will accept nothing less than a full handover of all militants who fought the army. Fatah Islam militants inside the camp, who spoke to journalists by mobile phone in the early days of the fighting, could no longer be reached. The fighting at Nahr el-Bared camp has been Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-90 civil war, claiming the lives of at least 60 militants and more than 20 civilians. Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman said Saturday that rival political leaders should put aside their differences for the sake of the soldiers killed fighting Fatah Islam. "It should serve as a lesson for all the country's political leaders by pushing them as soon as possible to end internal divisions and meet for a new dialogue to find solutions for the various existing problems." His appeal for unity came after Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa failed Friday to get Lebanon's feuding factions to resume talks. Lebanon is facing its most serious political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war as a result of the power struggle between pro-government and opposition groups. Rival Lebanese politicians have not met since a national dialogue conference ended last year without agreement. Three Lebanese soldiers were killed and a fourth was critically injured on Saturday while dismantling a bomb placed by al-Qaida-inspired Islamic militants in a northern Palestinian refugee camp, officials said. The deadly blast occurred as the army was dismantling bombs, booby traps and land mines inside the camp, reported a senior military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Saturday's fatalities bring to 79 the number of soldiers killed in the battle against Fatah Islam militants holed up in the Nahr el-Bared camp near the port city of Tripoli. More than 150 have been wounded since fighting erupted on May 20. Heavy machine gun fire and bursts of artillery shells reverberated across the camp Saturday and sent up plumes of black and white smoke. The state-run National News Agency said the army was responding to gunfire attacks on its positions around the camp and was pounding suspected militant hideouts deep inside the camp with artillery barrages. Later Saturday, a gun battle broke out in the Abu Samra neighborhood of Tripoli as Lebanese security officials searched for a suspected militant, a security official reported. He did not say if there were any casualties. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said a second suspected militant had been arrested earlier in the day during a raid on a house in Tripoli. He did not specify whether the militants were suspected members of Fatah Islam. Prior to Saturday evening, fighting had not occurred in Tripoli since the first week of the conflict with Fatah Islam. The army issued a statement Saturday saying it would not halt its military offensive until "those responsible for the deaths of soldiers are brought to justice." Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr declared victory over the militants Thursday, and the army said the next day it had overrun Fatah Islam's main positions inside the camp. But sporadic fighting has continued, and two top Fatah Islam leaders, Shaker al-Absi and his deputy, Abu Hureira, are still at large, along with an unknown number of fighters. They are believed to be holed up among the several thousand Palestinian civilians still inside sections of Nahr el-Bared not under army control. Adding to the confusion, a Muslim cleric who has been acting as a mediator between the militants and the army, said earlier this week that the Fatah Islam fighters had agreed to stop firing. Sheik Mohammed Haj of the Palestinian Scholars Association met with the militants' leaders during the week and later said that Fatah Islam "has declared a cease-fire and will comply with the Lebanese army's decision to end military operations." He said the militants would abide by conditions set by the army to end the fighting, but did not elaborate. TV stations and newspapers said the deal included handing over Fatah Islam's wounded and dismantling the group. However, Lebanese authorities have said they will accept nothing less than a full handover of all militants who fought the army. Fatah Islam militants inside the camp, who spoke to journalists by mobile phone in the early days of the fighting, could no longer be reached. The fighting at Nahr el-Bared camp has been Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-90 civil war, claiming the lives of at least 60 militants and more than 20 civilians. Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman said Saturday that rival political leaders should put aside their differences for the sake of the soldiers killed fighting Fatah Islam. "It should serve as a lesson for all the country's political leaders by pushing them as soon as possible to end internal divisions and meet for a new dialogue to find solutions for the various existing problems." His appeal for unity came after Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa failed Friday to get Lebanon's feuding factions to resume talks. Lebanon is facing its most serious political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war as a result of the power struggle between pro-government and opposition groups. Rival Lebanese politicians have not met since a national dialogue conference ended last year without agreement.

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