4 militants, 2 soldiers killed in Lebanese camp clashes

Senior military official: "The fighting will continue until this (Fatah Islam) phenomenon is eliminated."

Nahr el Bared 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Nahr el Bared 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Lebanese troops battled al-Qaida-inspired Islamic militants barricaded in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon on Wednesday, killing at least four militants, the state-run National News Agency reported. A Lebanese soldier was also killed in Wednesday's fighting with Fatah Islam militants entrenched in the Nahr el-Bared camp on the outskirts of the northern port city of Tripoli, a senior military official said. Another soldier had died on Tuesday, the official said. Their deaths raised to 124 the number of troops killed since fighting erupted May 20. "The fighting will continue until this (Fatah Islam) phenomenon is eliminated," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. A lull in the fighting was shattered around noon Wednesday when the army began pounding remaining Fatah Islam positions inside the camp, NNA reported. Since the start of fighting over two months ago, the army has repeatedly blasted Fatah Islam hideouts with artillery and tank fire. The NNA said the army has made more progress in attempts to crush the militants holed up in a small area of Nahr el-Bared's so-called "old camp" - densely populated neighborhoods where most of the remaining fighters are thought to be barricaded in underground shelters and bunkers. The four militants killed Wednesday had attacked a military unit, the NNA said. Last week, Lebanese troops stormed a hideout of Fatah Islam fighters in the camp, killing eight, according to the NNA. Also Wednesday, two army helicopters flew low over the devastated camp, apparently searching for militant hideouts but made no bombing runs. Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman vowed to continue the battle against Fatah Islam, saying it was a fight against terrorism and "a battle of dignity and national sovereignty." In a speech commemorating Wednesday's Army Day, Suleiman called the military deaths in the Nahr el-Bared were "great sacrifices" for the country's unity and peace. Meanwhile, President Emile Lahoud assured wounded soldiers that the army would win the battle against the "Fatah Islam gang." "The military martyrs have protected Lebanon's unity, sovereignty and independence," Lahoud, a former army commander, said during a tour of Beirut hospitals treating the wounded soldiers. "Victory will be on the army's side because it is a victory for Lebanon." The army has refused to halt its military offensive before the militants fully surrender, but the gunmen have vowed to fight to the death. A major ceremony in Beirut to mark Army Day, held every Aug. 1, was canceled because of the ongoing Nahr el-Bared fighting. The conflict in Nahr el-Bared is Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-90 civil war. An undetermined number of militants - at least 60 - and more than 20 civilians have died in the fighting, according to Lebanese and UN relief officials. Defense Minister Elias Murr has said that about 40 militants, including some with suspected al-Qaida links, have been arrested since the clashes began.