Lebanon: 48 killed in clash with Islamist gunmen
The Lebanese army battled Fatah al-Islam activists with automatic rifles and hand grenades in the northern city of Tripoli and the adjacent Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared early Sunday, security officials and witnesses said.
The fighting between the troops surrounding the camp and fighters from the al Qaeda related group started after a gunbattle raged in a Tripoli neighborhood. Witnesses said Fatah al-Islam gunmen seized Lebanese army positions at the entrance to the camp. The gunmen also opened fire on roads leading to the city and ambushed a military unit, the security officials said, according to the AP.
The Lebanese army brought reinforcements and was firing on Fatah al-Islam positions, reports said.
At least 48 people were killed in the gunbattles, including 23 troops, security officials said.
The clashes in Nahr al-Bared started shortly after police raided a militant-occupied apartment in Tripoli. The police were looking for suspects in a bank robbery a day earlier in Amioun in which gunmen made off with $125,000 in cash.
A security source told Naharnet on Saturday that the escape car of four gunmen, who had robbed the Mediterranean Bank branch, has been identified as one of the vehicles used by Fatah al-Islam.
At dawn Sunday, the armed militants resisted arrest and a gunbattle ensued. It spread to surrounding streets.
Lebanon's Premier Fouad Saniora described the assault on the army as a crime against national stability and the spiritual leader of the Sunnis in Lebanon Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani urged the Lebanese not to get involved in the attempt to sow civil strife.
On his part, a Fatah al-Islam spokesman said the group only fought to defend itself. "We acted in self-defense after brothers of ours in Tripoli were subjected to arrests," Abu Salim, identified as a spokesman for the group, told the Associated Press by phone from inside Nahr el-Bared. He claimed the Sunnis were under attacks and "we rose to defend our people."