|Palestinians Present Plan to End Standoff at Nahr al-Bared
|With the Lebanese government demanding the surrender of Islamist militants holed up inside the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp or face an all-out onslaught, Palestinian factions pressed for a negotiated solution to end the week-long standoff between Lebanese troops and Fatah al-Islam extremists.
Meanwhile, a brief but violent firefight flared early Monday in Nahr al-Bared after militants tried to attack a Lebanese army position outside the camp, state-run National News Agency said.
It said several Fatah al-Islam fighters were injured in the clash which broke out at 7:30 a.m.
Army troops deployed around Nahr al-Bared fired four shells toward the northern entrance to the camp where the Islamists are besieged.
The four-point plan presented by the Palestinian factions to the Lebanese government aimed at a peaceful resolution to the camp fight, Abu Imad Rifai, a representative of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, told the Associated Press on Sunday.
The plan calls for a cease-fire, the creation of a Palestinian security force to maintain law and order in the camp, the barring of other armed groups in the camp and the creation of "a mechanism for the departure" of Fatah al-Islam from the camp, Rifai said.
There was no immediate reaction from the government to the plan, which falls short of its demands for the handover of the militants. Rifai said the government found "some positive elements" in the plan but that details on how to deal with the departure of the fighters had to be worked out. "A final plan will be presented to the government in the next few days," he said.
It is not known where the militants would go. Syria is one option â€“ Fatah al-Islam's leader Shaker Absi spent years in the country, part of them in prison, before arriving in Nahr al-Bared last year. That has raised accusations among Lebanese security forces that Damascus is using the group to stir up trouble in Lebanon, and they may be reluctant to allow Fatah al-Islam to return there.
Damascus denies the accusations and says Absi and other Fatah al-Islam leaders are wanted in Syria for suspected terrorist activities. Absi is also wanted in Jordan, where he has been sentenced to death in absentia for involvement in the 2002 killing of an American diplomat in Amman.
But Rifai insisted that "a political solution is the only option."
"The repercussions of a military solution are much more serious than a political solution," Rifai said, in a clear warning that a military assault on Nahr al-Bared would trigger violence in Lebanon's 11 other Palestinian refugee camps.
Absi insisted his fighters would not surrender.
"We wish to die for the sake of God," Absi said in a video shown on Al-Jazeera television on Saturday. "Sunni people are the spearhead against the Zionist Americans."
Absi, a Palestinian, has said he is inspired by Osama bin Laden and has been linked to al-Qaida in Iraq. Mainstream Palestinian factions have distanced themselves from him.
The Lebanese government was in a bind over its campaign to uproot Fatah al-Islam militants barricaded inside Nahr al-Bared. An attack to crush the fighters could be bloody -- for both troops and the thousands of Palestinian civilians still trapped inside.
The military demands the fighters be handed over for prosecution for attacking Lebanese troops last week.
Despite sporadic exchanges of gunfire, a fragile truce has held at the camp in northern Lebanon for five days, with hundreds of Lebanese troops surrounding the camp and building up their forces to prepare for an attack.
The truce followed three days of heavy fighting at the camp in which 20 civilians, 30 Lebanese soldiers and up to 60 militants were killed.