Mon, Sep 03, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Lebanese siege ends after Islamists attempt to escape

AGENCIES , NAHR AL-BARED, LEBANON

The Lebanese army took full control of a refugee camp yesterday where it has besieged Islamist militants for the past three months, an army officer said.

Troops around the camp fired celebratory shots yesterday afternoon to signal their joy at the end of the deadly standoff that has pitted the army against diehard Fatah al-Islam fighters.

"The shots you are hearing are celebratory shots, the camp has fallen," the officer said.

Residents near the camp meanwhile waved Lebanese flags and chanted as convoys of cars honked their horns. Some threw rice at the troops to applaud their efforts

An army spokesman said that soldiers were still clearing the camp of mines and explosives but there were no more clashes with the al-Qaeda-inspired militants.

Earlier yesterday, the Islamists tried to flee the camp by attacking army checkpoints and swimming out to sea but at least 28 were killed and about 15 others captured, security sources said.

The fate of Shaker al-Abssi, the Palestinian leader of the group, which says it shares al Qaeda's ideology but has no organizational ties to the network, was unclear.

"What they did today was launch a suicidal operation in a desperate bid to flee the camp," an army spokesman said.

"Most of the terrorists were killed today. The others have been captured. A few might have escaped but the army is hunting them down," the army officer said.

The standoff between the army and the militants began on May 20 and has left more than 220 people dead, including 158 soldiers.

Three of the troops were killed yesterday.

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