Lebanon: Arab states to give military assistance for fight against Fatah Islam
Artillery and machine gun fire echoed around a crowded Palestinian refugee camp Tuesday as the Lebanese government ordered the army to finish off the Fatah Islam members holed up inside the camp in the country's north.
The fighting was resumed for a third straight day after a brief nighttime truce. At least 22 militants, 32 soldiers and 27 civilians have been killed since Sunday in Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The Cabinet late Monday authorized the army to step up its campaign and "end the terrorist phenomenon that is alien to the values and nature of the Palestinian people," Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said, according to the AP.
Hours after the decision, fighting flared up again Tuesday morning around the Nahr el-Bared camp outside the northern port city of Tripoli.
A spokesman for Fatah Islam, Abu Salim Taha, said fighters of the group repulsed several attempts by Lebanese forces to advance on their positions inside the camp. "The shelling is heavy, not only on our positions, but also on children and women. Destruction is all over," he said. Speaking to The Associated Press by telephone from the camp, he denied his group was behind bomb blasts in Beirut on Sunday and Monday night, as well as media reports the group's No. 2 was wounded.
Inside the city of Tripoli, Lebanese troops moved in Tuesday against a suspected Fatah Islam hideout, witnesses said.
At Nahr el-Bared, Lebanese artillery has pounded the suspected positions of the Fatah Islam, seeking to destroy the group with al-Qaeda ties or force them out of the camp on the outskirts of this northern port, Lebanon's second-largest city.
Fighting paused briefly Monday afternoon to allow the evacuation of 18 wounded civilians, according to Saleh Badran, an official with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.
Meanwhile, the mainstream Fatah faction warned on Tuesday of an uprising by Palestinian refugees across Lebanon if the Lebanese army continues to shell the Nahr al-Bared camp. "If the random shelling does not stop in the Nahr al-Bared camp there will be uprisings in all the camps in Lebanon," Sultan Abul Ainain told Agence France Presse from the nearby Beddawi refugee camp.
"No Palestinian or Palestinian faction in Lebanon will accept seeing the Palestinian people slaughtered in a collective punishment as is happening in Nahr al-Bared," he said. He called for an immediate ceasefire to help resolve the "problem" of Fatah al-Islam.
Later Tuesday, Arab governments promised military assistance for the Lebanese army at a special meeting called to discuss the current conflict. In a statement issued after a meeting in Cairo, ambassadors from Arab League member states said: "The Arab League council ... thanked Arab states which have provided military assistance and equipment to support the Lebanese army and security forces."
"It (the council) asserted the need to maintain this support by Arab states, especially in the latest security conditions through which Lebanon is passing," the statement added.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told a news conference later that he could give no details of any military assistance to the Lebanese government. "But we will continue to see how to help Lebanon and it depends on the developments. We hope that a ceasefire ... would be very much in order and very much needed," he added, according to Reuters.