|Army source: Battles in northern camp over|
02/09/2007 Clashes in northern Lebanon are over and Lebanese army soldiers are currently searching for possible remaining militants in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, a military source told Al-Manar TV stattion. Lebanese troops were engaged in heavy fighting with Fatah al-Islam militants on Sunday after crushing their attempt to break the siege on their refugee camp redoubt. Two Lebanese army soldiers fell martyrs in the confrontations.
Fatah al-Islam fighters had launched a failed attempt to escape from the camp but many were killed, captured or wounded, an army spokesman said. The Lebanese army ambushed a group of militants trying to flee the camp and killed some 26 of them and arrested others, according to Reuters. Other media sources said that the Lebanese army had captured the leader of Fatah al-Islam Shaker al-Abssy while trying to sneak out of the camp. However the report could not be independently verified.
"The fighters attempted to escape from Nahr al-Bared but a large number of them were taken prisoner, killed or wounded," the spokesman, who did not want to be identified, said. "None of them managed to exit the camp and escape, as far as I know," he added. An army source said at around 4:00 am several militants from outside the camp attacked an army checkpoint on the eastern edge of Nahr al-Bared, aided by fighters from within the camp. The source said five of the Al-Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam militants were killed and a major search operation was underway in nearby villages. He said the search by early morning was concentrated in the village of Ain al-Samak, located some five kilometers east of the camp. Dozens of armored personnel carriers, jeeps and car could be seen pouring into the area around the camp as military helicopters hovered overhead. Police strafed the entire area around the camp with machine guns.
Several ambulances were seen leaving the area, sirens blaring, with body bags inside. The army issued a statement appealing to residents of nearby villages to assist in the search for any militants who may have escaped from the camp. "We hope we can finish with this today," one officer at Nahr al-Bared said, referring to the deadly standoff between the army and the militants that began on May 20.
At least 200 people have died in the fighting, including 153 soldiers. On Saturday, troops seized the homes of the militant group's top leaders, Shaker al-Absi and Abu Hureira, who was killed in July by security forces. Abu Hureira was buried on Saturday in a "strangers'" cemetery in Tripoli. Residents of Abu Hureira's native village of Mishmish in northern Lebanon had refused to allow the family to inter him in the village cemetery. Several Lebanese soldiers killed by Fatah al-Islam are from Mishmish.