|Lebanese Army tries to keep lid on dual crises
|Clashes around the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp decreased in intensity on Monday, but the Lebanese Army continued to pound Fatah al-Islam positions, firing at militants moving between the rubble of demolished buildings and responding to any hostile fire.
Spurts of intermittent machine-gun fire echoed from inside the camp during the day and were answered by mortar and artillery fire from army positions. A military source said there were no army casualties in the North on Monday.
The US said on Monday it may provide Lebanon's armed forces with additional aid.
"There are some additional items that are already under consideration that we are talking about with the Lebanese forces," said US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Hadley, flying to Prague with President George W. Bush aboard Air Force One, said Bush spoke by telephone with parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri. Hariri "expressed appreciation for the support the US is providing to the Lebanese Armed Forces," Hadley said.
For its part, Fatah al-Islam dispelled rumors that the group's second-in-command, known as Abu Hureira, had been wounded in recent fighting. "I am as fit as a horse," Abu Hureira told The Daily Star. "We are ready to battle on for months despite all lies spread about us."
Abu Hureira said the army has retreated to its original positions around the camp after advancing "meters" into the camp over the weekend. A senior army source, however, denied that the army had entered the camp, although he described the situation as "unstable" and "open to all possibilities." He said the army will not let up until the militants surrender and are taken into custody.
The source confirmed reports that Lebanese Army intelligence on Monday arrested a senior Fatah al-Islam member near Nahr al-Bared who had tried to leave the camp in an ambulance. The militant was identified as Bilal Ismail.
Another military source said the army on Monday scaled back the intensity of the offensive launched on Friday, adding that troops were continuing to fortify their positions around the camp and continuing to fire at any militants seen moving.
Army tanks patrolled at the northern entrance to the camp, while the army continued to strengthen its positions around the camp and clear any items that could be booby-trapped.
The Tripoli-Akkar highway was closed Monday evening by the army after it had been reopened on Sunday.
Monday-morning traffic was sparse on the road, and only one side of the highway was open; the side closer to the camp was closed by the army. One casualty was evacuated Monday from inside the camp by the Palestinian Red Crescent, and about 20 civilians were allowed to leave through the southern entrance.
Abssi's bodyguard Abu Aisha was reported killed in recent clashes.
Fatah al-Islam spokesman Abu Salim Taha said five Fatah al-Islam militants, including a senior leader, have been killed and seven wounded since Friday.
The Lebanese government repeated its demand for the militants inside Nahr al-Bared to give themselves up, but Abu Hureira defied the call in a telephone interview with the Associated Press.
"This is not only impossible, this is unthinkable," said Abu Hureira. "Our blood is cheaper than handing over our weapons and surrendering."
He also denied that the army had made significant progress in its offensive.
"I am still in the same position since the war began. Our morale is high and the army did not gain any ground," Abu Hureira said. - With agencies
The Daily Star