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Lebanese army helicopters resumed bombing a Palestinian refugee camp in the north of the country Saturday just a day after the families of the besieged militants were evacuated, said witnesses.
A senior military officer told The Associated Press that all the 25 women and 38 children - mostly relatives of Fatah Islam fighters caught inside the camp for the past three months - had been released after they were questioned.
The decision to wipe out the Fatah Islam militants in Nahr el-Bared had been taken a while ago and now the gunmen have no choice but "to surrender or we continue our operations," said the officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
"Now, in principle, the decision to finish them is taken," the officer added, without specifying when the ground assault would begin. "We were embarrassed before by the presence of civilians among them."
The daily As-Safir quoted army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman as saying that final military operations against the camp will take no more than 10 days.
Sheik Mohammed al-Haj of the Palestinian Scholars' Association, who had mediated the evacuation of the families, told Hizbullah's Al-Manar television that some of the women and children released had gone to neighboring Syria, including the wife and child of Fatah Islam leader Shaker Youssef al-Absi.
An estimated 70 fighters now remain holed up deep inside the coastal camp, just outside the northern port city of Tripoli, where fighting has raged since May 20 in what has become Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-90 civil war.
The camp's more than 30,000 civilian residents fled in the first weeks of the fighting.
The army has refused to halt its offensive until the militants completely surrender, but the gunmen have vowed to fight to the death.