Lebanon agrees on deadline for fighters

BEIRUT (AFP) — Lebanon has given Palestinian factions until the middle of the week to negotiate a peaceful end to deadly fighting between the army and Islamists, a government source told AFP on Sunday.

“The authorities have given Palestinian organisations until the middle of the week” to try to negotiate a settlement to end the deadly showdown at a squalid Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, the source said.

For a week, soldiers have been besieging the Nahr Bared camp where entrenched fighters from the Fateh Islam group have been fighting the army in the deadliest internal feuding since the civil war.

A total of 78 people have been killed in the fighting, which has also forced thousands to flee and trapped thousands more in deteriorating conditions in the camp, where residents are suffering a lack of water and electricity.

The negotiations involve handing over wanted fighters from the  Fateh Islam  for trial over attacks against the Lebanese armed forces since last Sunday, the source said.

Only foreign fighters not wanted by the Lebanese authorities could be repatriated to their home countries, the source added.

“The government remains very determined to see those who are guilty handed over,” the source said, adding that Lebanon was also keen to end the ordeal of thousands of Palestinians who remain trapped inside Nahr Bared.

Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said on Saturday that the government was allowing time for the Palestinian factions to find a solution.

“This problem is being resolved through the Palestinian factions, and we are giving them time, as they have requested, but this does not mean that we are backing off,” he said.

Under a longstanding arrangement, the 12 Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon remain off-limits to the army and under the control of armed Palestinian factions — despite a UN resolution calling for the disarmament of all militias in the country.

“Nobody has talked about a military solution, but we want the criminals to give themselves up,” MP Walid Jumblatt, a prominent leader of the ruling majority, said at a press conference on Sunday.

Jumblatt again accused former powerbroker and neighbouring Syria of being behind the fighting in Nahr Bared and three bombings on shopping areas in and around Beirut since Sunday.

“They want to distract the army from watching the arms smuggled [from Syria] and to obstruct the tribunal,” he said referring to UN plans to create a court to try suspects in the killing of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri which has been widely blamed on Syria.

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