Thu, Jun 07, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Fatah says rebels surrendering

BOMBARDMENT The leader of the mainstream Palestinian faction said the resolve of the besieged militants was weakening, with at least three rebels giving themselves up

AFP , NAHR AL-BARED, LEBANON

Sporadic shooting rattled around a refugee camp in Lebanon yesterday after a night of gunbattles as the army battled to wipe out an al-Qaeda-inspired militia holed up inside.

Fighting was continuing on the 18th day of a deadly standoff between troops and the Sunni extremist group Fatah al-Islam, amid reports the resolve of the besieged militants was weakening and some were surrendering.

"The terrorists fired off a volley of shots from light weapons towards army positions on Wednesday [yesterday]," an army spokesman said.

"The shooting followed a night of army bombardments against positions of Fatah al-Islam, which opened fire with heavy weapons against our soldiers encircling the camp," he said.

The clashes erupted on May 20 around Nahr al-Bared and the nearby Mediterranean port city of Tripoli, rapidly deteriorating into the deadliest internal fighting Lebanon has seen since the 1975 to 1990 civil war.

Security has also been shaken by a series of bomb blasts in and around Beirut and police yesterday said a bomb was defused on a road leading to popular beaches in the southern port city of Tyre, a stronghold of Shiite militant groups in Lebanon.

Three Sunni militiamen hiding inside the Nahr al-Bared camp gave themselves up on Tuesday, with more seeking guarantees of safety if they do, the mainstream Palestinian faction Fatah said.

"Fatah al-Islam is in terminal phase, as its members are deserting its ranks," Fatah's leader in Lebanon Sultan Abu al-Aynayn said.

He said three gunmen had surrendered and handed over their weapons and that 18 others said they had stopped fighting and were seeking guarantees to turn themselves in, leaving only about 75 militiamen still fighting.

There was no confirmation from the Islamist group, which has vowed to fight "until the last drop of blood."

"We have information that there were some elements which gave themselves up, but the army has not received any of them," an army spokesman said. "We have information that some elements have also dropped their arms and left the fight, as many of them are in poor spirits.

"Now the army is continuing to tighten the noose on the gunmen, respond to the source of fire, track down armed elements and clear areas where there are explosives," he said.

During a lull in fighting on Tuesday, a convoy of ambulances and trucks loaded with medicine entered the squalid camp to supply the refugees still remaining amid fears of a humanitarian crisis.

In all, 108 people have been killed in 18 days of the unrest that has served to exacerbate a tensions in a deeply divided country already in the grip of an acute political crisis.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora has warned Fatah al-Islam to surrender or be wiped out.

Meanwhile, Fatah al-Islam military commander Shahin Shahin threatened to take the fight to other parts of Lebanon and beyond if the Lebanese army did not stop attacking a Palestinian refugee camp.

"If the army continues to bomb civilians and pursue its inhumane practices ... we will move within the next two days to the second phase of the battle," Shahin said during a telephone interview yesterday.

"We will show them the capabilities of Fatah al-Islam, starting with Lebanon and then moving to the whole of Greater Syria," he said, using a term intended to include what is now Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

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