Civilians allowed to leave Lebanese refugee camp

Army and Islamic extremists reach deal to temporarily halt fighting in Nahr el-Bared.

lebanon camp 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
lebanon camp 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
A deal has been reached with Islamic extremists holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon to allow their families to leave the besieged area, a Muslim clergyman and senior military official said Friday. Sheik Mohammed al-Haj of the Palestinian Scholars' Association said he was contacted Friday by Fatah Islam spokesman Abu Salim Taha, requesting his mediation with the Lebanese army command for a truce to allow the remaining civilians - most of them relatives of the fighters - to leave the refugee camp. The Association has been mediating between the militants and the army since fighting broke out in the camp on May 20. The senior military official confirmed that a deal has been reached with Fatah Islam fighters to allow their civilian relatives to leave the camp. "There is an agreement that they (families) come out today... If they're being truthful, we are ready," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity according to military rules. "We have taken all the necessary arrangements," he added, declining to elaborate. Witnesses near the Nahr el-Bared camp in north Lebanon said the army seemed to have halted its bombardment as of Friday morning, suggesting that a truce to evacuate the families may be in place. A number of Muslim sheiks from the Palestinian Scholars' Association have gathered at the southern entrance to the camp from where the civilians were expected to emerge, they added. For weeks, the army has been calling on the estimated 100 women and children still in the camp to leave, clearing the way for a final military assault to eradicate the remaining Fatah Islam fighters there. In the last two weeks, the Lebanese army has augmented its months-old artillery bombardment of the camp with massive 400 kilogram bombs dropped from helicopters, which may have prompted the fighters to ask for the truce. The camp's more than 30,000 civilian residents fled in the first weeks of the fighting and the army estimates only 70 Fatah Islam fighters remain, down from 360 when the fighting began. The army has refused to halt its offensive until the militants completely surrender, while, until now, the Islamists have vowed to fight to the death.