Two Lebanese soldiers die in refugee camp clashes

Deaths bring to 138 the number of Lebanese soldiers killed since fighting between army and Fatah Islam militants broke out.

Lebanon clashes 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Lebanon clashes 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Two soldiers have died during gun battles with Islamic extremists in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, a senior military official said Sunday. One of the soldiers was killed Saturday night while the second died Sunday of wounds he received in fighting on Saturday inside the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared near the northern port city of Tripoli. The official said the deaths brought to 138 the number of Lebanese soldiers killed since fighting between the army and Fatah Islam militants broke out on May 20. He spoke on customary condition of anonymity according to military regulations. The state-run National News Agency said fighting continued Sunday, with army helicopters carrying out three successive raids against Fatah Islam positions inside the camp. It said the helicopters fired more than nine rockets at the suspected positions, but it was not clear whether any direct hits were made. The military official declined to comment on the NNA's report. Army commander Michel Suleiman said last week that up to 70 Fatah Islam fighters remained in the camp, along with some 100 women and children believed to be relatives. When the fighting broke out in May, the number of Fatah Islam militants was estimated at 360. He said the group was affiliated with al-Qaida, denying that it was a Syrian creation, as claimed by anti-Syrian Lebanese government officials. Anti-Syrian Lebanese government officials have accused Damascus of being behind Fatah Islam in an attempt to destabilize Lebanon following its forced withdrawal from the country in 2005. Damascus denies the claim, saying it considers the group a dangerous terrorist organization. The Nahr el-Bared fighting has dragged on to become Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-90 civil war. The army has refused to halt its offensive until the militants completely surrender, but the gunmen have vowed to fight to the death.