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Lebanese Army Routs Militants From Refugee Camp

Lebanese security forces fought remnants of an al-Qaida inspired extremist group Sunday in northern Lebanon, killing at least 37 Islamic extremists and capturing more than 20 others. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

After more than three months of intermittent battles, Lebanese forces say they have routed remnants of the Fatah al-Islam group from the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared.

Security officials say the fighting began when the militants attempted to break out of the camp and flee.

George Kettaneh is the national director of emergency medical services of the Lebanese Red Crescent. He tells VOA his ambulances were called in by the army to pick up the dead Fatah Islam militants.

KETTANEH: "I can tell you that we evacuated these people to the public hospital in Tripoli. The camp is under control of the Army."

PACE: "Right now, the camp is completely under the control of the Army?"

KETTANEH: "Yes, there is an official communiqué from the Army and they say they are controlling the camp."

Kettaneh says there were also a number of wounded people - those he said were taken away by the military.

Fatah Islam emerged last November, when it split from another Palestinian group backed by Syria. The new group's leader, Shaker al Abssi, is a veteran Palestinian militant, who was sentenced to death in absentia in Jordan for killing an American diplomat there in 2002.

Abssi denied that his group has links to al Qaida, but said it shares the same ideals. He has said his immediate aim was to reorganize Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to bring them in line with Islamic Sharia law.

There was no immediate information on the fate or whereabouts of Abssi after Sunday's clashes.

The Nahr el Bared camp, north of the Lebanese city of Tripoli has been largely destroyed since fighting erupted in May.

The fighting killed about 150 Lebanese soldiers and more than 120 militants and civilians.

Most of the more than 30,000 people who normally live in the camp fled to other areas in the early weeks of the fighting.