|Three Palestinians killed in protest outside Nahr al-Bared
|Army says crowd ignored order to disperse
Three displaced Palestinian refugees were killed and at least 30 others wounded on Friday after refusing to heed army orders to disperse during a demonstration outside the North Lebanon refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.
This incident came as mediators from the Palestinian Clerics Association announced that they had "halted" their efforts to negotiate a cease-fire between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam militants in the camp.
"There will be no more negotiations on this front, with our great hope that a political solution soon prevails to end the crisis in Nahr al-Bared," said a brief statement released by the association on Friday, warning that the situation in the camp and for the displaced refugees was deteriorating.
About 2,000 of the tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees who fled the Nahr al-Bared camp since the onset of fighting on May 20, staged a protest on Friday demanding that they be allowed to return to their homes.
"The army did its best to break up this march peacefully, but it did not receive any cooperation from the demonstrators, who did not respond at all to the warning shots fired by the army," said an army statement on Friday.
Witnesses said soldiers fired into the air as hundreds of refugees, including women and children, tried to storm through an army checkpoint and enter the camp, much of which has been devastated during six weeks of fighting.
Conflicting, unconfirmed media reports said the army fired assault rifles at the protestors after the crowd did not disperse and attacked soldiers with stones and sticks, while other reports said the army fired at the ground near protesters. Local television stations aired footage of wounded Palestinians sufferinf from leg wounds.
"The protesters attacked the army with sticks and sharp items that threatened the safety of the security forces," said the army statement.
The army called for "patience and self-restraint" from the Palestinians until the battle in Nahr al-Bared ends and the army can "reassure" their safe return to their homes.
"We came unarmed to voice our demand that this conflict end and we go back home," Anwar Salah said in a telephone interview as he returned uninjured from the protest.
"This is unacceptable," said a displaced dentist from Nahr al-Bared as reports came in of dozens of wounded being rushed to a hospital in Beddawi and another medical facility in the northern port city of Tripoli.
Virginia La Guardia, an official with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Beirut, cited Red Crescent figures that three people were killed and 29 people wounded.
The National News Agency said young Lebanese civilians living near Nahr al-Bared joined the scuffle in support of the army, engaging in fistfights with the Palestinians.
The incident sparked fears that tensions might increase in Lebanon's 11 other Palestinian refugee camps, which are already close to the boiling point because of the fighting in North Lebanon that has killed at least 200 people, including 86 Lebanese Army soldiers.
A military source said two soldiers died on Friday, one of whom, Corporal George Asaad Naameh, died from wounds suffered late Thursday. Friday was a relatively quiet day in the camp, with only sporadic flare-ups of fighting.
Protests against the fighting at Nahr al-Bared were also held on Friday in Palestinian refugee camps in South Lebanon and in Beirut, but no violence was reported at those rallies.
One of the main factors that drove the displaced to protest is the rising frustration of those from Nahr al-Bared who continue to reside in the overcrowded shelters at the neighboring Beddawi camp.
Abbas Zaki, the Lebanon representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, called for calm and urged the Palestinians to respect the army and "not cause disruptions."
"There are rioters who are supporters of the terrorist group Fatah al-Islam and snuck into the demonstration to cause a clash between the army and the Palestinians," said Zaki in a statement on Friday.
"Do not cause any further strain on the army," he added.
Lebanese officials also urged Palestinians to respect the army and not hold protests until the army finishes its operations in Nahr al-Bared.
The Daily Star