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UN Pleads For Access to Besieged Refugee Camp in Lebanon

24 May 2007

The United Nations is appealing for access to a Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon where Islamic militants are holed up after days of fighting with Lebanese troops. VOA's Peter Heinlein has details from U.N. headquarters in New York.

With tensions high at the Nahr al-Bared camp, U.N. emergency aid coordinator John Holmes urged Lebanese authorities to allow relief workers and goods to reach thousands of stranded refugees.

"What we want to see is access for humanitarian actors and humanitarian goods to the camp to enable basic supplies to reach people, food, water, whatever they need, and also particularly of course medical care and medical evacuation for the wounded. That seems to be one of the major problems," he said.

A truce has halted the violence that broke out Sunday, killing scores of people. But Lebanon's defense minister Wednesday rejected negotiations with Fatah al-Islam militants, raising the possibility of more violence.

Holmes appealed to Lebanese authorities to use restraint in heavily-populated civilian areas.

"We accept the right of the Lebanese government to try to deal with an armed group of that kind conducting unacceptable activities on their territory. At the same time, we call upon the Lebanese government to exercise maximum restraint inside this civilian camp, and in particular the use of heavy weapons, tank fire and artillery in a very confined space in a civilian area is not in conformity with international humanitarian law, and we hope they will exercise the maximum restraint in whatever action they feel obliged to take to deal with this armed group," he said.

Karen Koning AbuZayd, Commissioner-General of the U.N. Agency for Palestinian refugees says eight-thousand to 10-thousand civilians fled the camp Tuesday and Wednesday, but estimated another 20,000 may still be there. "We need to be able to get into the camps to see what the needs are there, and to start repairing the damage if the truce holds," he said.

AbuZayd said the really worry is public health in a camp that has had no water or electricity since Sunday. She said the refugee agency is sending two emergency officers to Lebanon from the West Bank and Gaza to arrange safe passage for aid deliveries.

Authorities say several Red Cross truckloads of food are due to arrive at the outskirts of the camp within the next day.

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