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Lebanon vows to crush ‘terror’ as refugees flee

(AFP) Lebanese leaders vowed Thursday to crush Islamic fighters holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp, raising fears of a deadly new showdown after fierce fighting that has killed 69 people and sent thousands fleeing. 

“We will put an end to the terrorist phenomenon without hesitation,” Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said after his defence minister issued an ultimatum to Fatah al-Islam to surrender or face further attack. 

A Lebanese warship patrolling the Mediterranean fired on and sank inflatable boats carrying extremists fleeing from their stronghold in the besieged camp of Nahr al-Bared, an army spokesman said, but their fate was unknown. 

Lebanon was also hit by its third bomb attack in four days, further shaking the fragile security of a country battling deep political and sectarian tensions. 

Thousands of refugees are crowded into makeshift accommodation in northern Lebanon after taking advantage of a Tuesday ceasefire between the army and Islamist militants and fleeing Nahr al-Bared, the epicentre of the three days of gunbattles. 

Women carrying children and men with a few belongings continued to trudge out of the camp under the watchful eyes of soldiers posted outside. 

Relief agencies are hoping to get more aid to those still inside the once densely populated shantytown, battered by army shelling into a war zone of shrapnel-scarred houses, rubble-strewn streets and burnt out shells of cars. 

Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Murr flatly ruled out negotiations to end the standoff with Fatah al-Islam, raising speculation of a new battle in the deadliest internal fighting since the 1975-1990 civil war. 

“The army will not negotiate with Fatah al-Islam, which has two choices: either surrender or the army will take the military option,” Murr said on Arabic satellite television Al-Arabiya. 

“We will not surrender to the terrorists,” Siniora added on Thursday. 

The Al-Qaeda-inspired Sunni militia, which is entrenched in the squalid camp near the shores of the Mediterranean, said it would abide by the ceasefire it declared on Tuesday but was ready to fight again. 

“We respect the truce, but we will not surrender. If we are attacked, we will fight until the last drop of blood,” spokesman Abu Salim told AFP. 

At least 69 people, including 30 troops, 19 Palestinian refugees, 19 militants and one Lebanese civilian, were killed in the fighting which erupted Sunday. 

Murr said the authorities had intelligence that between 50 and 60 Fatah al-Islam fighters had been killed. 

A security official said the corpse of the militia’s number two was found on Wednesday while in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city, another militant was shot dead by police. 

The fighting has stoked fears it could spread to more Palestinian camps where hardliners are emerging and further worsen sectarian and political tensions in Lebanon. 

But Siniora vowed to protect “our Palestinian brothers,” saying: “We will not target them.” 

Under a longstanding arrangement, the dozen or so camps that house about half of the 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon remain outside the authority of the government, leaving security to armed Palestinian factions. 

The International Committee of the Red Cross estimated on Wednesday that between 13,000 and 15,000 refugees had left Nahr al-Bared since the fighting halted. According to UN figures, about 30,000 people lived in the camp. 

Aid agencies and volunteers are battling to help the displaced who have taken shelter in Tripoli or poured into Beddawi, another crowded refugee camp nearby. 

Meanwhile, police said 16 people had been injured in the explosion on Wednesday night in the predominantly Druze town of Aley, a popular summer resort in the mountains east of the capital. 

It was the third blast in the Beirut area in four days. 

“They will not scare us, just like the assassinations did not scare us,” Siniora said, in reference to a series of murders in the last two years which have been widely blamed on neighbouring Syria. 

Druze leader MP Walid Jumblatt, a key figure in the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, pointed the finger at Damascus, saying it was trying to block the creation of an international court to try suspects in the 2005 killing of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri. 

The issue is one of the key factors in a political crisis that has paralyzed Siniora’s Western-backed government for months, with the Syrian-backed opposition led by Hezbollah trying to overthrow his administration. 

Lebanese officials have accused Fatah al-Islam, whose leader is a Palestinian said to have been linked to the slain Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, of working for Syrian intelligence. 

Damascus has denied any links. 

Meanwhile, France’s new Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner arrived in Beirut to show solidarity with Lebanon at “this critical time,” following a visit by EU foreign policy envoy Javier Solana earlier this week.

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May 25, 2007 - Posted by | Blogroll, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror

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