The fighting between the soldiers and Fatah Islam militants at Nahr el-Bared camp brought the Lebanese army death toll to 32. Since fighting began on May 20, over 20 civilians and about 60 militants have been killed.
Of the latest 18 casualties, at least 16 died inside the camp, security officials told Reuters. At least two of them were soldiers, but sources would not confirm whether the rest were civilians.
Some Fatah Islam militants retreated from the front line, seeking refuge inside the camp and “taking civilians as human shields,” according to a Lebanese military statement reported by Reuters.
The camp, set up in 1948 to provide temporary refuge for Palestinians fleeing persecution in Israel, is one of 12 Palestinian camps in Lebanon, which together hold 400,000 refugees.
Thousands of refugees have fled the camp since fighting began, but according to Fatah Islam, over 500 armed militants are still inside. A 1969 Arab agreement prohibits the Lebanese army from entering the camp, and the Lebanese government has complied with the agreement thus far.
Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Michael Suleiman announced that his army is “determined to arrest the killers who attacked the army and Lebanese civilians and innocent Palestinians and bring them to justice,” according to Associated Press.
Khaled Mashaal, leader of militant Palestinian group Hamas, told reporters in Syria that he would like to see a peaceful end to the violence in Northern Lebanon.
“We are against Palestinian interference in Lebanese affairs and against targeting any Lebanese soldier,” he said. “But we also don’t accept the bombardment of the camp and don’t accept our people to be punished in Nahr el-Bared or in other places. We call for a peaceful solution to the Nahr el-Bared problem to avoid more casualties.”