The Lebanese army used artillery to bombard Islamic militants holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon Friday, as it intensified pressure on the militants to surrender. At least three Lebanese soldiers and an unknown number of militants were killed in the latest round of fighting, which began after the militants fired on Lebanese troops. From the outskirts of the camp, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.
The Lebanese army began pounding the militants' positions in Nahr el-Bared early Friday.
Security officials say Lebanese artillery targeted two of Fatah al-Islam's main positions and the army destroyed several sniper positions the militants had established on the northern edge of the camp.
The sound of artillery fire rang out like thunder over the refugee camp for hours with little pause. The army and the militants also exchanged machine gun fire throughout the day. Steady plumes of dark smoke rose over the camp that used to be home to more than 40,000 Palestinian refugees.
The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that nearly 10,000 residents remain in the camp. The Lebanese Army has called on them not to shelter the militants.
Palestinian representative to Lebanon, Abbas Zaki, told al-Jazeera television that military action was limited to the camp's outer areas. He said there would be no storming of the camp's interior.
Dr. Ahmed Kheir, the founder and director of nearby El-Kheir hospital, says his facility is prepared should there be heavy casualties.
"We are prepared," he said. "Because you know, we are the nearest hospital here to the battle. We must be prepared. We are prepared by equipment and doctors and staff."
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said earlier this week that the two-week-old crisis requires a peaceful solution that guarantees the eradication of the militant group.
The government has demanded that Fatah al-Islam surrender and face justice and has already charged 20 captured fighters as terrorists. Fatah al-Islam says it will fight to the death.
At least twice during the day, the Lebanese Army sent tank and troop reinforcements toward the camp.
Journalists have been barred from entering Nahr el-Bared since fighting erupted on May 20. Friday afternoon, soldiers pushed reporters further back from their perches on the camp's outskirts.