|New front in Saida. Fightings continue in Nahr al-Bared.
|Islamic militants opened a new warfront in the southern refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in a clear effort to ease the pressure on Fatah al-Islam fighters locked up in fierce gunbattles with Lebanese troops trying to crush the al-Qaida inspired terrorists deep inside Nahr al-Bared in north Lebanon.
A military spokesman said two Lebanese army soldiers and two Islamist extremists from Jund al-Sham were killed in the overnight clashes at Ain al-Hilweh.
They said 11 other people were also wounded in the fighting which broke out anew after militants attacked army checkpoints in Taamir, a residential area adjacent to Ain al-Hilweh, with grenades, prompting Lebanese troops to respond with artillery and machine gun fire.
Back at Nahr al-Bard, Lebanese troops on Sunday pushed ahead, pounding Fatah al-Islam hideouts relentlessly.
Many in Lebanon believed the army would be able to crush the Fatah al-Islam quickly, but after three days of fierce battles using artillery and tanks, the troops continued to face strong resistance.
Lebanese security officials said that Nahr al-Bared had been strategically divided into three zones. The army was controlling one zone, the militants held another, while Palestinian civilians and Fatah al-Islam guerrillas controlled the third and were refusing the militants sanctuary, they said.
Lebanese troops on Sunday fought their toughest battles with Fatah al-Islam militants holding out inside Nahr al-Bared.
White smoke rose from the camp all day as the Lebanese army resumed its bombardment of Fatah al-Islam hideouts, the third day of a military offensive aimed at crushing the fighters.
But unlike the first two days of the offensive against Fatah al-Islam when the army targeted areas on the edges of the Nahr el-Bared camp, Sunday's artillery fire was directed at militant positions deep inside the camp, indicating that troops were advancing further inside.
There was no way to tell exactly how deep the army had advanced into the camp, because the area had been sealed off and journalists were kept away.
Al-Arabiya's correspondent, reporting live from the scene of the fighting, said Lebanese troops penetrated deep into Nahr al-Bared around midday Sunday and were locked in "violent building-to-building" battles" with Fatah al-Islam militants around the Cooperative site inside the camp.
Correspondent for the state-run National News Agency in north Lebanon said army troops were in "full control over all axes" to Nahr al-Bared following heavy confrontations between the military and extremist fighters on Sunday.
NNA said the army advance was part of a plan aimed at tightening the noose on the militants who have been cornered in the operation that began early Sunday on the camp's Samed, Cooperative and al-Khan zones.
A senior Lebanese army officer said nine Lebanese troops have been killed, and several others wounded since Friday when the army launched its latest ground offensive against Fatah al-Islam militants.
The casualties raised the army's death toll to 44 since the standoff began two weeks ago. At least 20 civilians and about 60 militants have also been killed, but casualties in the camp in the last three days were unknown because relief organizations were banned from entering.
Fatah al-Islam spokesman Abu Salim Taha confirmed that five Fatah al-Islam fighters, including a senior leader, have been killed and seven wounded since Friday.
Officials said the group's third-in-command, Naim Deeb Ghali, identified as Abu Riad, who was known to send fighters to Iraq, was also killed in the gunbattles with Lebanese troops.
NNA reported four Islamist militants were killed on Sunday, including the group's deputy leader Shehab al-Qaddour, better known as Abu Hureira.
On Monday, NNA said that Abu Hureira was hurt in the fighting and not killed. It said the personal bodyguard of Fatah al-Islam's leader Shaker Absi, who is known by his nom de guerre of Abu Aisha, was killed.
Al-Arabiya, however, said there were conflicting reports on whether Abu Hureira, a Lebanese, was killed or wounded in his shoulder.
LBC television said Lebanese troops have also rounded up more than 20 militants.
In other developments, the main road linking Tripoli with the province of Akkar and the Syrian border reopened Sunday. Vehicles were seen passing on the road that was closed for two days by Lebanese troops over fears of snipers.
Earlier Sunday, the army denied that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon was helping Lebanese troops in their fight against Fatah al-Islam.