Mon, Jul 30, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Lebanese forces storm militant hideout, killing eight

AP , BEIRUT

An image grab taken from Hezbollah-run Manar TV shows Hezbollah leader Shiek Hassan Nasrallah delivering a speech by broadcast to a rally in Bint Jbeil, Lebanon, on Saturday. Nasrallah said last summer's war in south Lebanon left the US vision of a ``new Middle East'' in shambles, and Hezbollah was ready to strike Israel at any time.

PHOTO: AFP

Lebanese troops stormed an Islamic militant hideout in a Palestinian refugee camp, killing eight fighters, state-run media reported.

A Lebanese army commander said the final assault to crush the remaining Fatah Islam fighters there was "imminent."

The army pounded Fatah Islam's remaining positions with artillery, tank fire and rocket-propelled grenades, the National News Agency (NNA) and witnesses said. The NNA report could not be independently confirmed.

The five-hour bombardment on Saturday created plumes of heavy black smoke above the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon, witnesses reported.

The military command renewed calls on Saturday for the militants to allow their families to leave the camp.

Army Commander General Michel Suleiman vowed on Saturday to end the battle soon, telling his troops: "The final assault in Nahr el-Bared is imminent."

The army refuses to halt before the militants fully surrender, but the gunmen have vowed to fight to the death.

In other news on Saturday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned that Lebanon could face a new civil war if its feuding leaders fail to resolve the political crisis threatening to tear the country apart.

Kouchner delivered the warning on the second day of his visit for talks with Lebanon's rival factions. France, the former colonial power, has encouraged dialogue between the Western-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition, which are locked in a fierce power struggle.

The opposition has held street protests since Dec. 1 outside Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's office in Beriut. It wants to force him to resign or share power in a national unity Cabinet that would give the opposition veto power.

Saniora, backed by the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority and the US, rejects the demand.

Rival governments could emerge if parliament fails to elect a new president before Nov. 25, when opposition-backed President Emile Lahoud must step down.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah told a mass rally in the southern town of Bint Jbeil on Saturday that last summer's war in south Lebanon has left the US vision of a "new Middle East" in shambles, and Hezbollah was ready to strike Israel at any time.

"We will not wait for anyone to defend us. We will defend ourselves and our country" Nasrallah said.

"We possess and we will continue to possess rockets that can hit any area in occupied Palestine if Israel attacks Lebanon," he said.

Nasrallah did not attend the rally, but his speech was relayed to the crowd on a giant screen set up in the town's main square.

Bint Jbeil was among the towns worst hit during last year's 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah that ended Aug. 14 with a UN-brokered ceasefire.

The rally was organized by the Shiite Muslim group to mark the first anniversary of the war, which Hezbollah says it won.

Nasrallah said his group would never be at peace with Israel.

"It is impossible to live with a back-stabbing enemy on our border, who has been assaulting us ever since it was born," he said.

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