|Army goes back on offensive against Fatah al-Islam
|Senior militant denies report that seven fighters surrendered at nahr al-bared
Fierce combat resumed Tuesday evening at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp after the Lebanese Army had maintained steady pressure throughout the day with sporadic shelling aimed at the camp's southwestern quarter, where Fatah al-Islam militants are reportedly concentrated.
After a quiet night, heavy fighting resumed in Nahr al-Bared on Tuesday morning, with exchanges of gunfire and intermittent explosions in the camp. Troops shelled militants' hideouts with artillery fire, while militants fired rocket-propelled grenades.
Since Friday, when the army launched a renewed offensive to crush the militants, periods of furious fighting have alternated with stretches of calm.
While no new casualties were reported on Tuesday by the army, seven Fatah al-Islam members were reported to have surrendered to the mainstream Fatah movement in the besieged camp near the northern port city of Tripoli.
"They came to our office in Nahr al-Bared and surrendered themselves and gave up their weapons," local Fatah commander Major General Khaled Aref said, without providing any further details.
The surrenders are the first reported since the militants rejected Lebanese Army and government demands for the militants to turn themselves over to authorities. The gunmen had vowed to fight to the death.
However, Fatah al-Islam's deputy commander denied that any fighters had surrendered and challenged Fatah to "publish the names and photos of those who surrendered."
"These are lies, part of a campaign to undermine us," Abu Hureira told The Daily Star by telephone on Tuesday.
Abu Hureira confirmed earlier reports released by the army that one of the Islamist group's members had escaped in an ambulance.
"Bilal al-Shaabei is the one who left with the ambulance, and he is a brother of Haj Nasser, one of our senior members," said Abu Hureira.
The army released a statement on Tuesday in which it summarized its latest operations.
"Army units continue to tighten their circle around the armed groups inside Nahr al-Bared and were able to destroy their positions on the camp's edges, forcing them to retreat and flee toward the central neighborhoods," the army statement said.
"These [army] units are now defusing booby-traps and cleansing the buildings and positions that the gunmen abandoned," the statement added.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian and Lebanese Red Cross evacuated 11 people on Tuesday from the Nahr al-Bared camp, most of them women, children and the elderly.
About 27,000 of Nahr al-Bared's 40,000 residents have fled, many of them to the nearby Beddawi camp.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the UN agency charged with looking after Palestinian refugees, has launched an appeal for $12.7 million to meet the urgent needs of the displaced.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas renewed on Tuesday his denunciation of the Fatah al-Islam militants and reiterated that the group has nothing to do with Palestinians.
In a speech in the West Bank to mark 40 years of Israeli occupation, the Palestinian president accused the militants of "abusing the camps" to carry out attacks against the Lebanese Army and of "endangering the lives of Palestinians" residing in the camp.
Security sources said one of the Fatah al-Islam members in custody, Ahmad Merhi, who was arrested while staying in a luxury hotel in Beirut's Achrafieh neighborhood, confessed to smuggling fighters into Lebanon from Syria via illegal crossing points in the Bekaa and North Lebanon.
The security sources said that Merhi would rent out apartments for the fighters in Beirut before transferring them to the Palestinian camps, usually to Nahr al-Bared.
The Central News Agency reported on Tuesday that there was a secret meeting on Sunday night between Lebanese Army commander General Michel Suleiman and Abbas Zaki, the Palestine Liberation Organization representative in Lebanon, regarding the situation in the camps. - With agencies
'Troops catch eight illegals near syrian border'
Al-Mustaqbal newspaper reported on Tuesday that the Lebanese Army stopped eight individuals who were trying to sneak into Lebanon from Syria through a crossing in the Bekaa.
They were using one of the mountainous roads between Rashiyeh and Anjar that has been used in the past to smuggle weapons and people. The people stopped were Syrian, Iraqi and Sudanese nationals.
The Daily Star