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Lebanese Army Keeps Up Pressure on Militants


The Lebanese army continued to subdue Islamic militants holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp near the northern city of Tripoli Wednesday. From Beirut, VOA's Margaret Besheer reports fighting has become more sporadic amid reports some of the militants have surrendered.

The heavy artillery bombardments of the last five days eased Wednesday at Nahr el-Bared camp, where the Lebanese army is pursuing a small group of militants aligned to Fatah al-Islam.

Over the past two days there have been reports that several militants have given up their weapons and turned themselves in to the mainstream Palestinian Fatah faction. Army officials say they have information the reports are true, but have not yet taken custody of any of the fighters.

Sporadic gunfire could be heard throughout the day, but the lull in major combat gave aid agencies an opportunity to evacuate more of the remaining Nahr el-Bared residents. International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman, Virginia De La Guardia:

"Today we managed to bring assistance to 25 people," she said. "We took them out from the camp. Most of them were children, women and elderly. Since Sunday we have managed to bring out around 72 people from Nahr el-Bared Camp."

She says concern continues to grow for the approximately 3,000 residents who remain in the camp amid the fighting.

"We are very concerned, because last time we were able to bring much-needed assistance such as food, water and medication, it was in the last days," she added. "So it is already two weeks now since the fighting broke out and we are very much concerned for the people who are still remaining trapped inside the camp."

Meanwhile, in the southern coastal city of Tyre, explosives experts dismantled a bomb found near a popular public beach.

Since fighting began at Nahr el-Bared, four bombs have exploded in the Beirut area, killing one person and injuring several others, rattling an already anxious public.

And at Lebanon's biggest Palestinian refugee camp, Ein el-Hilweh, calm held on Wednesday.

The camp, near the southern city of Sidon, saw clashes Sunday night and into Monday between the army and Islamic militants from a group sympathetic to Fatah al-Islam. The fighting raised fears the violence could spread from Nahr el-Bared to one or more Lebanon's 11 other Palestinian refugee camps.

But at Ein al-Hilweh, a Palestinian security force patrolled two neighborhoods to prevent a renewal of the clashes, which left two soldiers and two militants dead.

At least 45 Lebanese soldiers and an unconfirmed number of militants have been killed since the fighting began at Nahr el-Bared last month. An estimated 20 civilians have also been killed in the fighting.

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