Relief workers appealed to the Lebanese army on Sunday for access to hundreds of refugees inside a besieged Palestinian camp, six weeks into a battle between soldiers and Islamists.“The humanitarian situation is getting worse and worse,” said Virginia de la Guardia of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), pointing out that water and electricity remain cut since the fighting broke out on May 20.
She appealed to the army “to allow rapid access to the camp for the ICRC” after having been kept out of Nahr Bared for the past 10 days.
Amid sporadic exchanges of gunfire on Sunday between the Lebanese army and diehards of Fateh Islam, which the military says now number “a few dozen”, a correspondent at the scene also reported twice-hourly blasts of shellfire.
“There is no deadline for the operation,” an army spokesman told AFP. “It will finish when the terrorists surrender to the judicial authorities.” Fewer than 1,000 of its original population of 31,000 are believed to remain in the coastal camp of Nahr Bared, near the port city of Tripoli, having taken advantage of lulls in the fighting to flee.
“It’s impossible to give any accurate figure,” acknowledged de la Guardia.
She said relief workers had been unable to deliver food to the camp since June 20 while the last evacuation took place on Wednesday, with just one person brought out.
Fadi Bader Abu Mustapha, a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, contacted by mobile phone inside the camp, said the situation was becoming desperate. “We have gone 15 days without fresh food and water,” he said.
“Healthwise, it is terrible. And it smells very bad because of all the dead bodies and dead animals.” De la Guardia could not say how many corpses have been abandoned in the rubble, pointing out that the fighting has moved near the camp’s southern entrance which had been the point of access for relief work.
Abu Mustapha said that residents left cowering inside the shattered camp were angered by Friday’s deaths of two fellow Nahr Bared residents during a demonstration by those displaced.
“There was a lot of anger inside after the protest but there is no way for anyone here to react since people can’t go out at all,” he said.
Medics at a Palestinian-run hospital said two men were killed and about 40 people wounded as the protest by hundreds of refugees came under fire from Lebanese soldiers at a checkpoint outside the nearby Beddawi refugee camp.
Offering its condolences to the families on Sunday, the military said the dead men ranked alongside “martyrs of the army who have also fallen victim to terrorism”.
It assured the refugees’ “safe return” to Nahr Bared once Fateh Islam had been crushed.
The army insists its troops did their best to avoid casualties among hundreds of demonstrators who were demanding the right to return to their homes.
“They were trying to force their way through the checkpoint, carrying metal objects and sticks, ignoring warning shots,” the military said.
In south Lebanon, an official of the mainstream Palestinian group Fateh, Munir Maqdah, told AFP a 300-strong Palestinian force was to be assembled to help restore security in Nahr Bared.
But the military declined to comment on the plan which would need its approval.
According to a count compiled from official figures, the fighting has cost at least 169 lives, including 84 soldiers, in and around Nahr Bared. The toll does not include the corpses of fighters abandoned in the camp.