Middle East News
Fighting renewed in Palestinian camp in Lebanon (Roundup)
May 26, 2007, 21:19 GMT
Nahr al-Bared, Lebanon - A fragile ceasefire between the Lebanese army and al-Qaeda-linked Muslim militants was broken late Saturday as machinegun fire and rocket exchanges could be heard across the Palestinian refugee camp at the centre of the struggle.
The exchanges began shortly before midnight at the Nahr al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon, where militants from the Fatah al-Islam group have been holed up for nearly a week. The fire-fight lasted about twenty minutes and then eased off.
Sources at Lebanese army said the exchange started when the army spotted some movements at the outskirts of the camp.
Meanwhile, the pan-Arab network al-Jazeera aired an interview with the Fatah al-Islam leader Shaker al-Abssi, who said that 'the Sunnis of Lebanon will head the struggle against the US and Israel from now on.'
Al-Abbsi ruled out any plans to surrender, saying 'we will fight.' He denied reports that he was injured during the clashes, and claimed that a third party was igniting the exchanges by firing at both the army and Fatah al-Islam.
Earlier, the fragile lull allowed around 38 people to leave the camp. The group, consisting only of women and children, walked out of the refugee camp shortly before noon time.
'We did not leave the camp on Friday because there was some sniping on the crossing,' said Hussineyh Rabih, 49, who was among the refugees.
'We wanted to stay in our houses in the camp, because we thought it is just a clash that will last a few days, but now we think it will last longer,' she said.
About 10,000 of the original 40,000 residents are still inside the Nahr al-Bared camp, according to UN officials.
Rabih said most of the people still inside the camp intended to leave, but they wanted to make sure the roads were safe from sniper fire, which breaks the lull once in a while.
Early Saturday, sniper fire was heard near the camp, breaking the short lull.
'Some people who were trying to leave the camp on foot this morning decided to go back after they heard the sniping,' said Rabih.
Some of the escaping residents accused the Fatah al-Islam guerrillas of sniping at the crossing to prevent those remaining trapped inside the camp from leaving.
'They want to use people as human shields, that is why they are sniping at the crossing,' said a refugee who fled the camp this morning.
'The guerrillas are mainly neither Lebanese nor Palestinians. They dress like those we see in Afghanistan and have long beards. They have new weapons and are determined to fight the Lebanese army,' said the refugee, who requested anonymity.
'The Islamist guerrillas do not work, they have a lot of money and drive four-wheel cars,' the refugee said.
Relief officials have expressed concern for those civilians who remain in the Nahr al-Bared camp, where intense shelling by the Lebanese army earlier this week has destroyed its main infrastructure.
The Lebanese army accused Fatah al-Islam fighters on Thursday of using civilians as 'human shields' and warned that it would retaliate if it came under renewed fire from the militants, who declared a unilateral ceasefire on Tuesday.
According to a Lebanese army source, more than 30 suspects have been detained since Lebanese troops became locked in a fierce battle with the militants on Sunday.
'They were detained during raids, as we are continuing to track down the terrorists who attacked the armed forces,' the source said.
He said that all raids were targeting places where the army suspect 'the presence of elements linked to the terrorists, and there are also residents who alert us to the presence of suspicious elements in their neighbourhoods.'
Guerrillas of the Islamist group Fatah al-Islam have been holed up in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in northern Lebanon since last year.
Lebanese officials said they were giving mediators the chance to convince the militants to surrender before ordering the army to move into the camp. The Lebanese army is banned from entering Lebanon's 12 refugee camps under a 1969 Arab agreement.
Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah on Friday said the storming of Nahr al-Bared was a red line, warning it would plunge the country into 'a cycle of violence.'
Meanwhile in Beirut, the United States continued Saturday for the second day to send ammunition to help the Lebanese army to fight the Fatah al-Islam guerrillas.
Three US Air Force cargo planes landed at Beirut's airport and unloaded ammunition and other equipment bound for the army, airport sources said. Six planes carrying similar military aid from the US and Arab allies had arrived on Friday.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)on Saturday delivered 30 tonnes of food to 12,000 displaced refugees, an ICRC spokesperson said.
According to the spokesperson, a 12-truck convoy from the United Arab Emirates had also arrived in the area and begun to distribute aid.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur