lebanese camp 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Three Lebanese soldiers were killed in sporadic fighting with al-Qaida-inspired Islamic gunmen barricaded in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, a senior military official said Monday.
The three soldiers died Sunday in battles with Fatah al-Islam gunmen holed up in a small area of the besieged Nahr el-Bared camp on the outskirts of the port city of Tripoli, the official told The Associated Press.
The official added that two soldiers who were killed on July 14, but whose deaths were not made public at the time, were pulled from the rubble of a building in the camp on Friday.
The deaths raised to 116 the number of troops killed since fighting broke out in the camp more than two months ago, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
"The army will continue its military operations until the (Fatah al-Islam) gunmen surrender to Lebanese authorities," he said.
Last week, the army used loudspeakers to urge the fighters to surrender, but they have vowed to fight to the death.
The din of sporadic gunfire and the impact of rocket-propelled grenades could be heard Monday morning in the so-called "old camp," witnesses said, referring to densely populated neighborhoods where most of the remaining fighters were thought to be barricaded.
In a statement issued Sunday night, the military called on the Fatah al-Islam gunmen "to give themselves up quickly before it's too late" and also to let their families leave the camp.
The army has halted its heavy artillery and tank bombardment of the remaining Fatah al-Islam positions over the past three days, possibly to allow for the evacuation of the gunmen's families.
The military statement said troops had seized weapons and sophisticated military equipment as they pushed their way into the camp.
"The army units are still working to eliminate mines, booby traps and barriers in order to ensure the troops' movement and safety," the statement said.
The fighters have recently been firing Katyusha rockets on nearby villages on almost a daily basis in what appears to be a new tactic to ease the army's pressure. A Lebanese teenager was killed and a young girl was injured last week in rocket attacks on villages near the camp.
Fatah al-Islam spokesman Abu Salim Taha has also warned they would send suicide bombers against the army if it continued its offensive.