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US Confirms Military Aid Airlift to Lebanon

The United States confirmed on Friday it is airlifting ammunition and other military supplies to Lebanon to help the government deal with an uprising by Islamic militants in a Palestinian refugee camp. The battle in and around the Nahr el-Bared camp near the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli erupted Sunday. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say the United States has joined several Arab countries in sending emergency military aid to Lebanon to help the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora restore peace and order to the Tripoli area.

Lebanon's small and lightly-armed military has been involved since Sunday in bitter clashes with militants of the Fatah al-Islam group, which is reported to have connections to al-Qaida.

The fighting began when Lebanese forces raided suspected Fatah al-Islam hideouts in search of militants who had staged a bank robbery.

Scores of people including militants, members of the security forces and civilians have been killed in the violence, described as the most serious involving only Lebanese-based forces since the country's civil war.

News reports from Lebanon say at least one U.S. Air Force C-17 transport was observed unloading military supplies at Beirut's airport Thursday along with planes from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

In a talk with reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey declined to specify which military supplies were being provided.

But he said they are part of an ongoing U.S. military aid program for Lebanon, in support of United Nations-backed efforts by the Siniora government to assert control over all Lebanese territory.

"Right now the Lebanese army is doing what it's been asked to do by the U.N. Security Council, and what every country's security forces have a right and obligation to do, which is to insure law and order in the country, to insure that there aren't individuals or organizations that are out there violating the law, that are conducting terrorist actions, and that are basically standing opposed to the legitimate government of the country."

Casey described Fatah al-Islam as a brutal terrorist organization, whose leader has been convicted in absentia in Jordan of the 2002 murder of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley.

He said efforts by the Lebanese military to assure that there are not "free-ranging" militias and other groups operating outside the country's formal security structures are in the broader interests of the world community.

The United States provided Lebanon with 40 million dollars in military aid last year, most of it for vehicles, training and equipment to help the government reassert itself after Syria's troop withdrawal in 2005 and the conflict last year between Israel and Hezbollah.

An additional $280 million in Lebanese military aid for this year is part of the Bush administration's $120 billion supplemental spending bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

That measure was approved by Congress late Thursday after a lengthy partisan dispute over Iraq troop withdrawal timetables that were eventually stricken from the funding bill.

In remarks in California Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she hopes the Lebanese government will be able to deal with the Fatah al-Islam uprising, which she said is another example of Middle East extremists trying to destabilize a democratic government.

Mainstream Palestinian groups have disassociated themselves from Fatah al-Islam, but have complained of Lebanese army shelling that has partially destroyed the Nahr el-Bared camp and displaced thousands of its residents.