Friday, May 25, 2007
In lebanon the army is ready to destroy the al fatah
North braces for next round at Nahr al-Bared Washington sends six plane-loads of materiel as fighting resumes at battered refugee camp By Rym Ghazal Daily Star staff BEIRUT/NAHR AL-BARED, REFUGEE CAMP: A spokesman for the Fatah al-Islam militant group said that members of the group were "ready to die" as the Lebanese Army resumed shelling of militant positions Thursday evening, ending a truce that had largely held since Tuesday afternoon. "We are ready to die," Abu Salim Taha told The Daily Star in a telephone interview. "We only have two options now, to die as martyrs or win," said Abu Salim. "Winning," he explained, meant "succeeding in the cause that we were established for in the first place." Thousands of Palestinian refugees evacuated Nahr al-Bared during the cease-fire, with the last batch leaving through the camp's south gate Thursday afternoon. Most headed for shelters established at schools and other buildings inside the nearby Beddawi camp. Thirty two-soldiers had been killed in fighting as of Thursday, while conflicting reports put the number of militants dead at between 22 and 60. Safad Hospital in Beddawi said on Thursday that it had received the bodies of 17 civilians but expected many more as access to Nahr al-Bared improved. Palestinian sources said on Thursday that 19 or 20 civilians had been killed since the battle started on Sunday. Other sources have put the number, which could not be independently confirmed, higher. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora vowed on Thursday to triumph in fighting with the militant group. A day earlier, Defense Minister Elias Murr had said that the militants would be killed if they did not surrender. The streets of Tripoli were deserted late Thursday, with Lebanese Army checkpoints throughout the city, witnesses said, describing a mood of heightened tension. The army fortified positions around Nahr al-Bared during the day on Thursday. Witnesses described sporadic gunfire. The United States announced that it was sending six military cargo planes with arms and supplies to arrive in Lebanon on Thursday and Friday. The head of Fatah al-Islam, Shaker Youssef al-Absi, is a Palestinian accused by Jordanian authorities of having collaborated with the deceased leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in the 2002 killing of a US diplomat in Amman and other crimes. Zarqawi was killed by a US air strike in 2006. Fatah al-Islam is believed to be a splinter group of the Syrian-based Fatah al-Intifada. Fatah al-Islam has said that it is a "jihadist" group and that it had been training in North Lebanon to liberate Jerusalem. In a related development, security forces were reportedly chasing two armed militants near Balamand in North Lebanon as The Daily Star went to press. The army said Thursday that for the second time in as many days, it had sunk two boats carrying Fatah al-Islam militants trying to flee Nahr al-Bared. Abu Salim, however, denied the report. "We don't have boats or know how to swim. We will stay at our post until death," he said. The army also accused the group of using civilians as "human shields" and warned of a heavy fighting to come. "We hold Fatah al-Islam responsible for everything that ... might take place if it resumes attacks on our positions and continues to use Palestinian civilians as human shields," the army said in a statement released on Thursday. "The Fatah al-Islam gang is using Palestinian civilians as human shields, firing on humanitarian convoys and has even confiscated ambulances," it added. "The army is keen to protect the lives of innocent civilians," the statement said, "and has facilitated the evacuation of the wounded through the Lebanese Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Cross." The army said numbers of civilian casualties previously announced in the media had been "exaggerated." "Only one dead civilian and 19 wounded others have been evacuated by relief agencies ... which proves that the army did not target civilian areas but directed its fire on the positions of the gunmen," the army statement said. Palestinian President and Fatah Movement leader Mahmoud Abbas echoed denials by other Palestinian leaders of any links with Fatah al-Islam. "We have nothing at all to do with those they call Fatah Al-Islam," Abbas said on Thursday during a press conference in Gaza City with visiting EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. "We do not approve of the actions by this group," he said. Abbas said the Fatah Movement would send humanitarian aid to displaced residents of Nahr al-Bared. A statement posted on the Internet Thursday and attributed to the militant group Jund al-Islam in the Gaza Strip called for "jihadists" to rally behind Fatah al-Islam. Jund al-Islam, which said it was behind the kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston in Gaza City on March 12, issued the plea on a Web site often used by Islamic militants. "Our Sunni brothers and jihadists, we say to you that what is now happening at Nahr al-Bared is nothing but an example of what will happen to you ... so speed to help make your brothers victorious," said the statement. Siniora on Thursday sought to respond to reports accusing the Lebanese Army of unjustly killing Bilal Drakish, also known as Abu Jandal, who died in a raid by on a home Tripoli. Police said that Drakish was shot to death on Wednesday as he prepared to throw a grenade at a group of security forces raiding an apartment in the city's northern neighborhood of Tibanneh. A committee for detainees in Dinniyeh released a statement condemning the killing. Drakish was "unfairly killed as he was a resident from Tripoli and was not a member of Fatah al-Islam," the statement said. Siniora requested an investigation into the incident. On Tuesday, another Fatah al-Islam militant - wearing a suicide belt - blew himself up in an apartment in Tripoli as security forces closed in on him. No one else was killed in Tuesday's incident, which was the first case of a suicide bomber directly confronting security forces in Lebanon.