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Lebanese Army Continues Pounding Militants in Refugee Camp

03 June 2007

The Lebanese Army kept up pressure Sunday on Islamic militants in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon to get them to surrender. Artillery barrages continued for a third day, and VOA's Margaret Besheer reports machine gun exchanges could also be heard throughout the day.

After two days of intense shelling of militant positions inside Nahr el-Bared camp, the Lebanese Army hit the camp intermittently on Sunday. In between artillery bombardments, soldiers engaged the militants of Fatah al-Islam with machine gun fire.

A major road running along the camp's edge that links the northern city of Tripoli with the province of Akkar and the Syrian border reopened Sunday. The army had closed the road Friday because of sniper fire.

In a telephone interview from inside the camp, Fatah al-Islam spokesman Abu Salim Taha said heavy fighting was taking place on the north and northeastern edges of the camp. He said the militants ambushed a group of advancing Lebanese troops and pushed them a few meters back.

Taha claims his men killed 15 Lebanese soldiers on Sunday and rejected Lebanese Army reports that they have taken some Fatah positions as false. His claims could not be verified.

Taha also said five Fatah fighters were killed and several wounded in Sunday's battles.

As a gun battle raged near Taha's position, he said half the Nahr el-Bared camp is uninhabitable following the three days of intense shelling.

The Lebanese government has demanded the militants surrender and face justice; Fatah al-Islam says it will fight to the death.

Until fighting erupted on May 20, Nahr el-Bared was home to some 40,000 Palestinian refugees. Most have evacuated to some of Lebanon's 11 other Palestinian camps. But several thousand still remain.

Meanwhile, ambulances waited near the camp to enter and retrieve wounded persons. On Sunday, only one injured person was taken out. Virginia De La Guardia of the International Committee of the Red Cross told VOA that a nurse inside the camp has asked for assistance in evacuating a group of civilians.

"Apart from the person we evacuated this morning who was wounded, apparently these 15 people they are only vulnerable people; so elderly, pregnant women and children," said Virginia De La Guardia.

She says the Palestinian Red Crescent and the Lebanese Red Cross are coordinating the evacuation, which they hope will take place late Sunday.

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