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Palestinians Flee Camp During Lull in Fighting Between Lebanese Army and Islamic Militants


As a lull in fighting between the Lebanese Army and Islamic militants in a Palestinian refugee camp entered a second day, more camp residents fled, as fears remain high that their situation will worsen. VOA's Margaret Besheer has more from the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

Palestinian refugees, carrying little or no possessions, trickled out of the Nahr el-Bared camp on the outskirts of Tripoli. Lebanese soldiers stationed at one of the camp's entrances checked their bags to be sure they were not smuggling out weapons.

The soldiers also prevented journalists from entering the camp, which was the scene earlier in the week of heavy fighting between the army and Fatah al-Islam militants.

Workers of the International Red Cross and other aid agencies received the refugees, who arrived on foot or in small pickup trucks.

Virginia De La Guardia of the International Committee of the Red Cross was at the camp's entrance and says her organization is worried about the civilians who remaining inside.

"We are very much concerned about the 20,000 people who are still staying inside the Nahr el-Bared camp without electricity, without food, without medicines," she said.

Once outside the camp, the refugees were transferred to buses that will take them to the nearby Beddawi refugee camp, one of about a dozen Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

At Beddawi, aid agencies are trying to house and feed the some 17,000 people displaced by the fighting that broke out last Sunday.

Waseem is an aid worker with the United Nations Relief Agency (UNRWA) and is coordinating housing at one of Beddawi's six schools.

"Just 2,300 [refugees] in this school, the others are spread all around the mosques, the NGO [non-governmental organization] centers and we have some people who have relatives and they go to live with them," said Waseem.

The schools are crowded, with not enough mattresses or sanitary facilities for all the refugees. There are also shortages of milk, clothes and hygiene items.

The ICRC has delivered 17,000 liters of water to Naher el-Bared and on Saturday distributed 30 tons of canned food to the displaced residents who are now at the Beddawi camp.

Eighty-year old Ameney is one of the refugees living at Kawkab Elementary school in Beddawi. She and 42 of her relatives are living in one classroom.

She says they left Nahr El-Bared with nothing but the clothes on their backs, because there was no food, water or electricity.

At Beddawi's 31-bed Safad Hospital, which treated some of the wounded on the first day of fighting, Dr. Abed Bekai says hospital officials fear if the standoff between the Lebanese Army and the militants escalates, the hospital will not be able to care for large numbers of wounded.

"Our hospital is not prepared for such war, and the capacity of the hospital is not enough to receive a lot of cases; especially if we are talking about war and severe cases," he said.

Lebanon's defense chief has said that the al-Qaida inspired Fatah al-Islam militants, who are believed to number about several hundred, will be killed if they do not surrender.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora vowed Thursday to root out what he called a "terrorist and criminal phenomenon without hesitation and as soon as possible."

The Lebanese Army has fortified positions around Nahr el-Bared and on Saturday three U.S. transport planes arrived in Beirut carrying military aid for the government. Many local people fear this shipment of supplies raises the prospect that the Lebanese Army will storm the camp, but others say a long siege is more likely.

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