BEIRUT, LEBANON - Lebanon's prime minister visited troops near the border with Syria on Wednesday, saying victory against Islamic State militants in the frontier region is near.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri spoke to reporters in Ras Baalbek, where he inspected the command center for the ongoing military operation against hundreds of IS militants, which was launched on Saturday.
“I never doubted the Lebanese army,” Hariri said.
The U.S.-backed Lebanese military is now preparing for the final phase of the operation. The military says it controls over 80 percent of the areas previously held by IS and has driven the militants from some 100 square kilometers (62 square miles).
The Syrian army and its ally, the Lebanese Hezbollah group, have launched a simultaneous operation to clear IS from the Syrian side of the border in the western Qalamoun mountain range. Hezbollah has been fighting in Syria alongside President Bashar Assad's forces since 2013.
The operation has outraged IS sympathizers in Lebanon, including extremists at the notoriously lawless Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh, known for harboring Islamist fugitives.
Heavy fighting between security forces and radical Islamists erupted in the camp for hours Wednesday, sending plumes of smoke over the settlement south of the capital, Beirut. Heavy gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades echoed across the camp's al-Tiri neighborhood, where small Islamic militant groups are based.
Wednesday's violence spilled beyond the camp's borders with gunfire reaching buildings in the port of Sidon.
A Palestinian security official said five people were killed, including one civilian, in the fighting which pitted the militants against the mainstream Palestinian Fatah Movement. Lebanese security forces stay out of Palestinian refugee camps in accordance with a longstanding agreement.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make comments to the press.
A cease-fire was later reached that halted the fighting, which has sporadically erupted over the past few days.