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Lebanon military says Fatah-al Islam group defeated

RIA Novosti

22/06/2007 12:22 BEIRUT, June 22 (RIA Novosti) - The Lebanese defense minister said late Thursday that the resistance of Islamic militants at a Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon had been crushed.

The fighting at Nahr al-Bared camp, located 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Beirut, was Lebanon's worst outbreak of internal violence since the 1975-90 civil war. At least 170 people died in 33 days of clashes between Lebanon's military and militants from a radical Fatah al-Islam group.

"The military operation is over," Defense Minister Elias al-Murr said in an interview with Lebanese LBC television. "The army is mopping up the area. The Lebanese army has crushed the terrorists."

He said many of Fatah al-Islam leaders had been killed in the clashes, while the group's leader, Shaker al-Absi, and his deputy, Abu Hureira, were likely to be hiding inside the camp among a few thousand of the remaining refugees.

The majority of the camp's 40,000 residents fled to the nearby Beddawi refugee camp in the early stages of the current conflict.

Meanwhile, Sheik Mohammed Haj of the Palestinian Scholars Association, which is acting as a mediator in the conflict, said Thursday that Fatah al-Islam "has declared a cease-fire and will comply with the Lebanese army's decision to end military operations."

However, the Lebanese minister said the army would continue blockading the camp until the militants met all demands of unconditional surrender put forward by the Lebanese authorities.

According to the media, these include giving up their weapons, handing over the fugitive Fatah Islam leaders and wounded militants in hospitals inside the camp.

Under the Cairo Agreement signed between Lebanon and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1969, the Lebanese army cannot cross the camp's official boundaries defined by the UN.

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