Lebanon has given Palestinian factions until the middle of the week to negotiate a peaceful end to deadly fighting between the army and Islamist militants, a government source said yesterday.
"The authorities have given Palestinian organizations until the middle of the week" to try to negotiate a settlement to end the deadly showdown at a squalid Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, the source said.
For a week, soldiers have been besieging the Nahr al-Bared camp where entrenched militants from the Fatah al-Islam militia have been fighting the army in the deadliest internal feuding since the civil war.
A total of 78 people have been killed in the fighting, which has also forced thousands to flee and trapped thousands more in deteriorating conditions in the camp, where residents are suffering a lack of water and electricity.
The negotiations involve handing over wanted fighters from the Fatah al-Islam extremist group for trial over attacks against the Lebanese armed forces since May 20, the source said.
Only foreign militants not wanted by the Lebanese authorities could be repatriated to their home countries, the source added.
"The government remains very determined to see those who are guilty handed over," the source said, adding that Lebanon was also keen to end the ordeal of thousands of Palestinians who remain trapped inside Nahr al-Bared.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said on Saturday that the government was allowing time for the Palestinian factions to find a solution.
"This problem is being resolved through the Palestinian factions and we are giving them time, as they have requested, but this does not mean that we are backing off," he said.
Siniora on Saturday spoke by telephone with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas about the situation, the prime minister's office said.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who heads Lebanon's opposition, has warned the Siniora government against an army assault on the camp to avoid turning Lebanon into a new front in the US-led "war on terror."