Skip to comments.Lebanon says Islamic militants defeated
Posted on 06/21/2007 4:42:49 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Lebanon's defense minister declared victory Thursday over the Fatah Islam militant group, saying it had been crushed after a monthlong military assault on its stronghold in a northern refugee camp and only mopping up remained.
A Muslim cleric who has been acting as a mediator said later that Fatah Islam agreed to stop firing, and calm descended over the Nahr el-Bared camp outside the port of Tripoli
The battle, Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-90 civil war, killed 76 soldiers, at least 60 militants and more than 20 civilians. It came amid a fierce political power struggle between the Western-backed government and an opposition led by the militant Hezbollah.
"The Lebanese army has destroyed all Fatah Islam positions," Defense Minister Elias Murr said on the private Lebanese Broadcasting Television. "The army is combing the area. This terrorist organization has been uprooted."
Sheik Mohammed Haj of the Palestinian Scholars Association, a mediator who met with the militant group's leaders in recent days, said Fatah Islam "has declared a cease-fire and will comply with the Lebanese army's decision to end military operations."
He said the militants would abide by conditions set by the army to end the fighting, but he would not elaborate. TV stations and newspapers said the deal included handing over Fatah Islam's wounded and dismantling the group.
Murr said that "the military operation is over," but stressed that the camp would remain "a theater of operations and under siege" until the militants surrendered.
Military officials said army experts were clearing buildings, streets and houses of explosives placed by the militants.
"The Lebanese army has crushed those terrorists," Murr said.
He said a "large number" of Fatah Islam commanders had been killed over the past month, while leader Shaker al-Absi, deputy leader Abu Hureira and others were on the run, suggesting they were hiding in the camp among several thousand Palestinian civilians still holed up there.
A few hours before Murr's announcement, sporadic shooting by army artillery and tanks could be heard in the camp as plumes of black and white smoke rose into the sky.
"What is happening now is some cleanup that the army's heroes are carrying out, and dismantling some mines," he said.
His comments came after a few days of heavy combat in which soldiers destroyed several compounds that housed Fatah Islam positions on the camp's fringes in what has become known as the "new camp." It appeared parts of the old camp the densely populated neighborhoods where most of the Palestinian refugees lived remained outside army control.
Murr said 76 soldiers were killed and 150 wounded in the fighting, which began May 20 with militant attacks on army posts around the camp.
Some Cabinet ministers and members of the anti-Syria governing coalition have claimed Fatah Islam was created by Syrian intelligence to destabilize Lebanon, a charge denied by both Syria and Fatah Islam.
Earlier Thursday, Murr cautioned the country's politicians against concluding that Fatah Islam militants have links with Syria, saying it was too early to tell, according to Nahar Ash-Shabab, a weekly supplement of Lebanon's leading An-Nahar newspaper.
"So far, there is no answer, and we have to wait for the next days," he was quoted as saying.
Murr said the group's attacks on army posts May 20 were aimed at shaking the Lebanese military before a planned takeover of the region by militants. He said they intended to declare a "terrorist state" in the north and split from Lebanon.
He said 30 soldiers were killed by "treachery." He did not give details, but security officials have said 13 were slain while they slept in their tents in Tripoli.
Murr said a number of militants were arrested in Tripoli before the fighting erupted in Nahr el-Bared, including members of Fatah Islam, al-Qaida and a group that attacked the Lebanese army in the northern region of Dinniyah in 1999.
He cautioned that there might still be trouble ahead.
"Is there al-Qaida in Lebanon? Yes. Are there terrorist organizations? Yes. More explosions? Possible. Assassinations? Possible."
He said these threats could spread to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon and also linked the possible violence to a Katyusha rocket attack on Israel last week. "The available information says that these are from Palestinian factions," he said.
Asked whether fighting in Nahr el-Bared could be repeated in Ein el-Hilweh, another Palestinian refugee camp that is a stronghold of Islamic militants, Murr replied: "Any attack on any Lebanese or soldier, they know what the response will be."
Isn’t there more than a dozen of these “refugee camps” around Lebanon? My bet is their are thousands of these Fatah-Islam terrorists in these camps.
A front line army cordinated by Syria and Iran to destablize Lebanon.