Fighting spreads in south of Lebanon

141.jpgFighting has spread to a second Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon after an army checkpoint near Ain al-Hilweh in the south was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades. The attack and ensuing gunfights wounded five people and came as troops continued their latest assault against Fatah al-Islam fighters at Nahr al-Bared in the north on Sunday.

 

The attack on the army checkpoint near Ain al-Hilweh sparked fierce exchanges of rifle fire and grenades between Lebanese soldiers and members of Jund al-Sham, a group which had expressed support for Fatah al-Islam’s fight in the north in recent days.

 

Three soldiers and two Palestinian civilians were wounded at the camp, medics said. The army brought in reinforcements and deployed armoured vehicles mounted with heavy machine guns, and calm was restored for a few hours.

 

But fighting flared again as night fell on Sunday, Hanna reported. On Sunday, Lebanese military helicopters fired rockets and machinegun barrages at targets on the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp’s coastal side.

 

The government of Fouad Siniora, the prime minister, has said it aims to eliminate Fatah al-Islam once and for all. Fatah al-Islam confirmed that Abu Riyadh, one of its leaders, was killed by an army sniper on Saturday.

 

There had been conflicting reports in previous days that other senior leaders had been killed, reports that were denied by the group. The Lebanese army had managed to reach a few hundred metres inside the refugee camp and clear out pockets of fighters.
Machinegun fire could be heard outside the camp on Sunday as the army continued its siege backed by helicopter gunships and tanks. Security sources said that two Lebanese army soldiers had been killed overnight, bringing the number of troops killed since Friday to eight.

 

More than 16 people, fighters and civilians, have died in the camp over the weekend. Fatah al-Islam said it had lost three fighters. Lebanon’s official news agency said four fighters were killed in Nahr al-Bared on Sunday, including the group’s deputy leader named as Shehab Kaddur.

 

However, a man boasted that his fighters “have arms that would shock the enemy”. Lebanon’s An-Nahar daily reported that arrested members of Fatah al-Islam had confessed the group was planning a September 11-style attack.

 

“Fatah al-Islam planned to attack a large hotel in the capital using four suicide truck bombs at the same time as launching suicide attacks on embassies in east and west Beirut,” the paper said, without giving its sources.

 

Abu Salim Taha, Fatah al-Islam spokesman, said: “We are inflicting great damage on the part of the Lebanese army. “We are … in total control of the battlefield… We have the upper hand in fighting at the moment. We will never surrender… we will fight till the last drop of blood.”

  

Abu Salim Taha also claimed that troops from Unifil, a multi-national peacekeeping force whose remit is largely concerned with monitoring southern Lebanon, had taken part in the shelling of Nahr al-Bared camp. A deputy spokesperson for Unifil denied the allegations.

 

Yapmina Bouzaine said: “These claims are utterly unfounded. Unifil’s maritime task force have no part whatsoever in the developments in and around Nahr al-Bared camp.” She said the maritime task force was acting within its original mandate, assisting the Lebanese authorities in preventing the illegal flow of arms via the sea.

 

She said: “Approximately 150 people are in wheelchairs … Since the [latest army] offensive began on Friday, no relief supplies have made their way in to the camp.” The army has urged refugees still trapped inside the camp to “be patient and to expel those criminals from among you”.

Siniora said on Saturday that the camp’s population had fallen from more than 31,000 to fewer than 3,000, including the fighters, after civilians fled after the outbreak of fighting on May 20. He accused Fatah al-Islam of preventing the remaining civilians from leaving the camp in an apparent bid to use them as human shields.

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