Thousands flee Lebanon violence

 

Smoke coming from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp

There have been fierce clashes at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp

Thousands of people are fleeing from a refugee camp in northern Lebanon which has seen three days of heavy fighting between troops and Islamist militants.Palestinian residents of the Nahr al-Bared camp have been trapped as troops exchanged fire with Fatah al-Islam fighters holed up in the camp.

Witnesses say many are taking advantage of a lull in the fighting to leave.

Earlier an informal truce was declared, with the militants pledging to cease fire if the troops did the same.

There was a reduction in the fighting, although sporadic clashes were reported.

UN aid convoys entered the camp to deliver food and water, but one was forced to leave after shells exploded near its vehicles.

‘No power, no food’

Witnesses said that as the fighting lessened, a mass exodus began.

FATAH AL-ISLAM

Split from Palestinian group Fatah al-Intifada in late 2006

Believed to have 150-200 armed men, based in Nahr al-Bared camp

Denies al-Qaeda links but says it endorses its ideas

Has links with Syrian intelligence, Lebanon says

Leader is Shaker al-Abssi

In pictures: Lebanon clashes

Profile: Fatah al-Islam

Media: Pressure on Lebanon

“Thousands of refugees – men, women and children – started fleeing on foot or by car from Nahr al-Bared camp from early evening to take shelter in the nearby Beddawi camp,” Hajj Rifaat, a camp official, told the news agency AFP.

Vehicles crammed with up to 10 people were flying white flags as they left, Reuters news agency said.

Ashraf Abu Khorj, who lives inside the camp, told the BBC conditions there were dire.

“Really really, the situation is so bad – no power, no food, no water,” he said. “There is no hospital inside the camp. There are a lot of people injured, there are a lot of people dying.”

Appeal for calm

The fighting is the bloodiest internal conflict in Lebanon since the civil war ended 17 years ago.

Dozens of soldiers, militants and civilians have been killed in the clashes, which began on Sunday.

map

Eyewitness: Tripoli fighting

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The Lebanese government has pledged to root out the militants, who it says are being backed by Syria.

On Monday evening, the cabinet authorised the army to step up its efforts and “end the terrorist phenomenon that is alien to the values and nature of the Palestinian people”.

The US State Department, meanwhile, said it was considering an urgent request from the Lebanese government for more military aid to help battle the militants.

And in Beirut, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana met Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to discuss the fighting, appealing for calm and calling on the military to respect the safety of civilians.

Sunday’s clashes erupted when security forces tried to arrest suspects in a bank robbery. Militants from Fatah al-Islam then attacked army posts at the entrances to the camp.

Lebanon is home to more than 350,000 Palestinian refugees, many of whom fled or left their homes when Israel was created in 1948.

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