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Lebanese Army, Militants Clash at Palestinian Refugee Camp

BY Admin  May 21, 2007 at 5:30 PM EDT

Lebanese tank

The fighting in Lebanon’s second largest city, Tripoli, began Sunday when Lebanese Internal Security Forces raided a building in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, where approximately 30,000 Palestinians reside. According to the BBC, the police forces were searching for suspects in a bank robbery when militants from the Fatah al-Islam group retaliated and posted armed guards at the camp’s entrances. The police responded by calling the army for reinforcements.

Close to 50 combatants, soldiers and militants reportedly were killed during Sunday’s fighting, including one Fatah al-Islam member who was suspected for an unsuccessful plot to bomb passenger trains in Germany.

Palestinian officials claimed that the Lebanese military, which by Monday had amassed hundreds of troops, battle tanks and armored carriers, had killed nine civilians and injured more than 70 others. The fighting erupted despite an agreement between Lebanon and the Palestine Liberation Organization that Lebanon’s military has no authority or jurisdiction in the camps.

Abu Salim, a spokesman for Fatah-al Islam, threatened to increase attacks outside of the camp if the Lebanese army did not stop its assault.

“It’s a life-or-death battle,” Salim told the Associated Press. “Their aim is to wipe out Fatah al-Islam. We will respond and we know how to respond.”

Fatah al-Islam is believed to have around 200 armed soldiers inside the camp. The faction’s leader, Shaker al-Abssi, has said that he is inspired by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and trains his followers to plan attacks outside of Lebanon, including Iraq.

The group is suspected to have ties to both al-Qaida and Syria, but Lebanese national police commander, Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, told the AP that the group was too minor to have ties with al-Qaida.

“Perhaps there are some deluded people among them, but they are not al-Qaida. This is imitation al-Qaida, a ‘Made in Syria’ one,” said Rifi, accusing the Syrian government of fomenting the violence in the camp, a charge Syria has denied.

In a lecture at Damascus University, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem said, “We reject this organization. It does not serve the Palestinian cause and it is not after liberating Palestine.”

Meanwhile, an explosion in Beirut, in a parking lot in the mainly Sunni Muslim district of Verdun, wounded at least seven people on Monday, security sources and witnesses said, according to Reuters.

The bomb, which authorities said may have been placed under the car, set other cars ablaze and broke windows in surrounding buildings.