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Nearly half the Palestinian refugees in Nahr al-Bared camp flee

RIA Novosti

24/05/2007 16:07 BEIRUT, May 24 (RIA Novosti) - Nearly one-half of an estimated 30,000-40,000 Palestinians who were staying in northern Lebanon's Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, which has been under tank and artillery fire for the past three days, have now fled.

According to local television channels, the exodus continues as people try to take advantage of a third ceasefire attempt between militant Palestinian factions and the Lebanese Army, which came into effect Tuesday. Vehicles filled with men, women and children are mainly heading for another camp near Tripoli.

At least 80 people have been killed since early Sunday, when fighting between units of the Lebanese Army and members of Fatah al-Islam broke out in the neighboring city of Tripoli.

Lebanese troops surrounded the remaining militants in the northeast of the camp and demanded that civilians leave the area to avoid being injured.

On Monday, Lebanon's government, infuriated by militant attacks that have seen at least 32 soldiers killed in three days of fighting, ordered the Army to step up its sweeps of the camp.

It is unclear how long the truce between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam militants will last, although the Lebanese government, backed by the U.S. and a number of Arab countries, has indicated that it has lost patience with the Islamists.

Many experts consider members of the radical Sunni Fatah al-Islam group to be followers of the global al-Qaeda network.

The group, whose leader, Shaker al-Absi, has been accused of direct ties with al-Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility for two bombings in Beirut Sunday and Monday, which reportedly killed one woman and injured at least 17 people.

Lebanese authorities are also concerned about the possibility that fighting could spread to other Palestinian refugee camps in the country. There are 12 Palestinian camps in Lebanon that are home to around 400,000 people.

Moscow condemned the terrorist acts in Lebanon in a statement Tuesday and urged the Lebanese leadership to prevent a further escalation of violence.

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