Sun, Aug 26, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Militants' families released from camp in Lebanon


The wives and children of Fatah al-Islam militants holed up in a refugee camp in north Lebanon have been released after being evacuated and questioned by the army, a cleric said yesterday.

"The process of handing over the group of 63 women and children to their families began overnight," said Sheikh Mohammed Hajj, spokesman for a group of Palestinian clerics who acted as go-betweens.

Some of the women and children went to two Palestinian refugee camps -- Beddawi, which is close to the main northern city of Tripoli, and Ain al-Helweh in south Lebanon, he said.

About 25 or 30 of them who are Syrian or Syrian-Palestinian were meanwhile headed to Syria, Hajj said.

Among them are the wife and children of Fatah al-Islam chief Shaker al-Abssi, he said.

The families evacuated on Friday were the last civilians in the bombed-out Nahr al-Bared camp, opening the way for a final army assault on the remaining al-Qaeda-inspired militants.

Early yesterday, military helicopters carried out three raids on the camp, which has mostly been reduced to rubble since the standoff between the army and the Islamists began on May 20.

The remaining militants, thought to number about 70, have been besieged for the past two months in a small area in the south of the camp, hiding in well equipped underground shelters, the Lebanese army said.

The advance of troops has been hampered by the camp's winding streets and booby traps planted by the militants.

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