Some 160 Palestinians fled a refugee camp in north Lebanon on Wednesday as the Lebanese army prepared to launch a final assault against al Qaeda-inspired militants holed up inside.
Troops have been battling Fatah al-Islam fighters at Nahr al-Bared for nearly two months. A total of 205 people have been killed. A soldier died by a sniper on Tuesday. At least 87 soldiers, 75 militants and 43 civilians have been killed in the fighting that started on May 20.
The army seized all the militants' positions on the outskirts of the camp last month but refrained from entering its official boundaries.
According to Reuters, Lebanese security and political sources said the army was concerned it was being dragged into a war of attrition with the militants inside the camp. The sources said the army deployed extra troops in the area and was expected to use helicopter gunships and naval boats as well as tanks and heavy artillery in any assault on the camp.
Lebanese sources said the decision to enter the camp came after the army received information that Fatah al-Islam militants were using the relative lull that has prevailed over Nahr al-Bared lately to set the stage for a new round of fighting with the Lebanese army.
Palestinian sources said some of the last remaining civilians in the camp left on Wednesday ahead of the expected attack. Local representatives of Fatah and other factions of the Palestine Liberation Organisation also left.