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French Version

Lebanese troops kill 6 militants near Tripoli

Lebanese soldiers killed six suspected Islamist militants Thursday in a raid on a cave the men were allegedly using as a hideout. Not far from the scene of the raid, low-level fighting between the army and Fatah al-Islam militants holed up at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp continued. No casualties had been reported late Thursday.

The cave, tucked under a prominent electric sign reading "God" in Arabic and which serves as a landmark for drivers on the main highway south of Tripoli, had been used as a hideout by eight militants of different nationalities for at least a month, security sources said.

The army was reportedly tipped off by residents that strangers were living in some of the caves in the wooded and hilly area about 5 kilometers south of the city.

Residents in the area woke up around 3 a.m Thursday morning to sounds of heavy fighting, as militants fired rifles and rocket-propelled grenades at troops, who shelled the caves with heavy artillery. The fight lasted until around 9 a.m.

"Those hiding in the cave like rats were involved in the treacherous attack against the army in Nahr al-Bared," said one army source, referring specifically to the May 20 ambush by militants on army posts, which killed 27 soldiers and triggered a full army assault on Fatah al-Islam.

The army source confirmed that six fighters "of different nationalities" were killed during the raid on Thursday. At least one of the dead fighters was Lebanese, the source said.

"We thought Israeli warplanes were back and were bombing our area," Hajj Radwan, a resident of a villa near the cave, told The Daily Star.

During the summer of 2006 war, several bridges in the North were hit by Israeli warplanes, and drones constantly surveilled the Qalamoun area.

Radwan and his wife took their passports and a small bag of clothes and headed to Tripoli along with their neighbors in one car.

"You never know, we didn't want to take any risks," said Radwan, adding that like Tripoli itself, the village of Qalamoun has both "extremists and moderate residents."

"We thought there were only Lebanese Islamists around here," he added.

On Sunday, Lebanese troops stormed a militant hideout in Abu Samra in Tripoli and killed seven fighters, mostly foreigners.

AFP quoted a military source as saying on condition of anonymity that the militants who had been killed on Thursday included three Saudis, two Syrians and an Iraqi.

In an interview with the Riyadh daily Okaz, the head of the Internal Security Forces, Major General Ashraf Rifi, said that four Saudi suspects had been arrested and another four killed in the latest clash.

The army released a statement Thursday saying it "was able to eliminate all the elements of the group" and that the militants were found in possession of weapons and ammunition.

"The army command reaffirms its insistence on going after the terrorists without leniency and it will not leave any safe shelter for them to carry out attacks on civilians' lives and to tamper with the state's safety and stability," the statement said.

The army also said that the cave was booby-trapped and therefore the army was undergoing clean-up operations in the area before opening it up to the public again.

The National News Agency reported on Thursday that a goat herder had been arrested by the army in Qalamoun for "having contact" with militants living in the cave.

Meanwhile, in Nahr al-Bared, sporadic clashes broke out Thursday between the army and Fatah al-Islam.

President Emile Lahoud reiterated on Thursday a demand that Fatah al-Islam surrender "as the only way" to end the fighting in the camp, which has been devastated in the fighting.

Fighting in Nahr al-Bared and associated unrest has left more than 200 people dead since May 20, including 84 soldiers, 76 or more militants and 40 civilians.

Meanwhile, two Danish citizens detained in Lebanon since last weekend were freed Wednesday, the Danish Foreign Ministry said.

The two men were arrested on suspicion of involvement in unrest in Northern Lebanon, ministry official Lars Tuesen told AFP, "but it was established that they had nothing to do with this violence."

A third Danish citizen and a Palestinian with Danish residency have been detained in Lebanon for the last month, Tuesen added.

They are also suspected of being involved in the fighting between the Fatah al-Islam group and the Lebanese Army, Tuesen said.

Beirut 29-06-2007
The Daily Star

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