Tue, Jun 19, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Palestinian camp bombarded by Lebanese troops

AP , BEIRUT

Fierce fighting erupted in and around a besieged Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon yesterday as Lebanese troops resumed bombardment of al-Qaeda-inspired militants holed up edinside

The troops, backed by heavy artillery and tank fire, blasted suspected hideouts of the Fatah Islam militants inside the Nahr el-Bared camp on the outskirts of the port city of Tripoli, as the battle against the militants entered its fifth week, witnesses said.

The intense bombardment sent thick black and white smoke billowing into the air and started fires in several shell-punctured buildings in the camp.

In Sunday's clashes, troops entirely destroyed the militants' main headquarters located on the edge of the camp, according to the state-run National News Agency (NNA). But the whereabouts of Fatah Islam leader Shaker Youssef al-Absi and his top aides remain unknown.

After inspecting troops deployed around the Nahr el-Bared camp, Lebanese Army commander General Michel Suleiman said on Sunday that the decision to eliminate the Fatah Islam militants was "final and irreversible."

"There is no other way out for these terrorists except to lay down their arms and surrender to justice before it is too late," Suleiman said in a statement carried by the NNA.

The fighting between Lebanese troops and Fatah Islam militants has claimed more than 150 lives -- 69 soldiers, at least 60 Fatah Islam militants and more than 20 civilians -- since its outbreak on May 20 -- the worst internal violence to engulf Lebanon since the 1975 to 1990 civil war.

A senior military official said on Sunday there was "no time limit" for the army's plan to close in on the militants, but would not comment on a report from Lebanon's leading An-Nahar newspaper that said the military was close to winning the fight.

"The army is taking field measures to put an end to this abnormal situation," the military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements.

Mediation attempts by Palestinian factions and Islamic clerics to find a peaceful solution to the crisis have so far failed.

The Lebanese government insists that Fatah Islam militants surrender before the army stops its offensive.

However, the group's leaders have pledged to fight to death.

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