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Lebanese Army Intensifies Campaign Against Militants


For a second day, the Lebanese Army intensified its shelling of Islamist militants holed-up in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon. The army is trying to bring the two week-long standoff to an end. Officials say at least three soldiers and an unknown number of militants were killed in Saturday's fighting. From the camp's outskirts, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

After a lull in fighting Friday evening, the army renewed its offensive on Saturday with artillery and machine gun fire, sending plumes of smoke over the camp.

A helicopter belonging to the country's small air force also fired missiles and machine guns at targets on the western side of Nahr el-Bared along the Mediterranean coast.

While Palestinian negotiators try to find a peaceful solution, the Lebanese government has demanded that the Islamic militants surrender and face justice. Fatah al-Islam's leader says they will fight to the death.

The Lebanese government says Fatah al-Islam triggered the fighting when it attacked army positions around the camp and in Lebanon's second largest city, Tripoli, two weeks ago.

Nahr el-Bared camp, established in 1948, is a labyrinth of buildings along narrow streets. Until May 20, it was home to more than 40,000 Palestinians. Aid agencies say about 10,000 remain in worsening conditions.

VOA spoke via telephone with a resident who is still inside Nahr el-Bared. Milad Salami is a nurse at one of only two clinics still open. He says conditions are deteriorating and that dead animals and garbage are rotting in the streets.

He says they received food and water two days ago before the heavy bombardments began. There has been no electricity since fighting began two weeks ago, and there is no tap water, because the water tanks on the buildings were destroyed in the shelling.

Salami confirms reports from other refugees that several buildings housing civilians have collapsed from the shelling.

He says they were able to rescue some people, but could not reach everyone because of the bombardments.

Under a 1969 Accord, the Lebanese Army is restricted from entering Palestinian refugee camps. Much of the fighting has been going on at the camp's edges. The army has accused the militants of taking up positions in mosques and mingling among the civilian population, using them as human shields. The army has warned the Palestinian residents not to harbor the terrorists.

Salami says he is located in the center of the camp, and that no one there is sheltering militants. He says residents on the edges of the camp are certainly harboring them.

Salami and his family remain in their home, along with two other families they have taken in. He tells VOA he does not want to go to Nahr el-Bared's few shelters, because they are over-crowded.

With incoming fire heard in the background, Salami said his home has been hit seven times and he does not know how much longer it will stand.

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