Lebanese army makes new gains in Palestinian camp

Army troops are making “significant” gains in their long-running battle against Al Qaeda-inspired fighters barricaded inside a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, security officials said Tuesday.But a senior military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media, said four soldiers were killed in fighting Monday.

The body of a missing soldier also has been found, he said.

The latest deaths raise to 103 the army’s death toll since the fighting broke out nearly two months ago.

The security officials, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, reported “significant progress” by the troops, saying fighters from the Fateh Islam group were now encircled in an area no bigger than 500 square metres.

They did not elaborate.

An Associated Press photographer standing a few hundreds metres from the camp said the army was using armoured bulldozers to push its way through the rubble in the devastated camp. Three armoured personnel carriers could also be seen parked atop the rubble of destroyed buildings, he said. The army placed a security camera on the collapsed rooftop of one of the buildings, he added.

But gunfire and the impact of rocket-propelled grenades could still be heard from inside the camp Tuesday, suggesting that the fighters continued to resist the army’s advance.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said a Katyusha rocket was fired from inside the camp Tuesday, landing in a village about five kilometres (three miles) away. There were no reports of casualties.

An army statement issued late Monday said troops captured two fighters while pursuing the fighters in the camp’s old neighbourhoods.

Some local and Arab television stations on Tuesday spoke of unconfirmed reports that the body of Abu Hureira, the deputy Fateh Islam leader whose real name is Shehab Al Qaddour, was found among those of other fighters in the camp.

But the reports could not be immediately verified.

The conflict with Fateh Islam fighters, which erupted May 20, is Lebanon’s worst internal violence since the 1975-90 civil war. At least 60 fighters and more than 20 civilians have been killed in the fighting, according to the Lebanese government and UN relief officials.

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