US ships arms to Lebanon

NAHR BARED (Reuters) — The United States sent more ammunition on Saturday to Lebanon, whose army is struggling to defeat a group of heavily armed Islamists holed up inside a Palestinian refugee camp.

The Fateh Islam group, which has vowed to fight to the death, said in a statement the US military supplies included nerve gas and cluster bombs.

“If they use unconventional weapons against us, we will respond with unconventional attacks everywhere,” said the statement, read by the group’s spokesman Abu Salim Taha.  A Lebanese military spokesman said he had no reaction to “these false allegations which are not worth commenting on”.

Three US air force cargo planes landed at Beirut’s airport and unloaded ammunition and other equipment for the army, airport sources said. Six planes carrying similar military aid from the US and Arab allies arrived on Friday.

The shipments, promised months ago but rushed after fighting erupted between the army and Fateh Islam on May 20, arrived as Lebanese soldiers beefed up their positions around Nahr Bared camp, the group’s main base.

Security forces searched buildings and houses in the nearby port city of  Tripoli and other villages in search of fighters who may have slipped through the cordon, security sources said.

A fragile truce between the combatants has held since Tuesday despite sporadic clashes. The fighting, the worst internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war, has killed at least 78 people — 33 soldiers, 27 fighters and 18 civilians.

Thousands who fled the fighting are sheltering in a nearby refugee camp and other areas. Around 150 refugees, mostly women and children, left Nahr Bared camp on Saturday.

“The situation inside is tragic. There is large-scale destruction. Our homes are in ruins,” Abdel A’al, a refugee, told Reuters as he left the camp, home to around 40,000 people before the conflict.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it delivered three truckloads of food, water and candles to Nahr Bared where at least 10,000 refugees remain.

The ICRC also delivered 30 tonnes of food to 12,000 displaced refugees who moved to a nearby camp. A 12-truck convoy from the United Arab Emirates also began distributing aid.

Lebanese leaders have vowed to stamp out Fateh Islam, which is led by a Palestinian but has little support among Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee community of around 400,000.

Officials said they were giving mediators a chance to persuade the fighters to surrender before ordering the army to move into the camp. The Lebanese army is banned from entering Lebanon’s 12 refugee camps under a 1969 Arab agreement.

Hizbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Friday that storming Nahr Bared would mark a “red line”  and would plunge the country into an uncontrollable cycle of violence.

Shiite Hizbollah is the country’s most powerful group but is at odds with the country’s anti-Syrian ruling majority.

An Al Qaeda-linked group has threatened to carry out bombings in Lebanon and attacks on Christians unless Beirut withdraws its army from around Nahr Bared.

Three bombs have hit the Beirut area last week, killing one woman and wounding about 20 people.

Anti-Syrian Lebanese leaders say Fateh Islam is a tool of Syrian intelligence. Damascus and the group deny the charge.

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