|Lebanese Army steps up its assault on Fatah al-Islam
|Five soldiers were killed as the army continued its aggressive assault on Thursday against the remaining militants of Fatah al-Islam confined to a single street within the northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.
Four soldiers were killed overnight and one on Thursday, all of whom the army honored as fallen "martyrs" that "abided by the promise they made to defend their country's sovereignty and its people's honor."
First Adjutant Ghattas Tanous Tarbeyah, born 1968, Adjutant Elias Danny Aazar, born 1977, and Corporal Mahmmoud Ali Ali Ahmad, born 1985, and Corporal Yehya Mohammed Al-Ashqar, born 1985 were killed on Wednesday night, while Corporal Ahmad Hassan Abdul Fattah, born 1986, was killed Thursday.
The army appears to have amplified its attacks as residents in the port city of Tripoli - 15 kilometers away from Nahr al-Bared - told The Daily Star that "very intense" sounds of far away explosions and continuous "thuds" were heard all throughout the port city.
An army source confirmed that the Lebanese Army took over the main headquarters of Fatah al-Islam and the "Zaatar"
garden near it by placing flags over the areas after killing two snipers that were hiding in the northeastern part of the camp.
The conflict in the North has claimed at least 200 lives since it started on May 20, with 112 soldiers killed, 80 militants and the rest civilians. Some of the civilians have been killed by stray bullets and more recently by Katyusha rockets that are being heavily launched by Fatah al-Islam onto villages and areas in Akkar.
On Thursday alone, at least 17 Katyushas were fired by Fatah al-Islam on nearby farms and residential areas of Akkar, including Arqa and Abdah. An Israeli spy plane hovered over the camp and the North after weeks of absence from violating that airspace.
A resident in Arqa in Akkar, one of the villages hit by the Katyushas, Zaid Haddar, described the situation in the areas near the camp as "tense," saying that residents fear walking outside their homes.
"Most of us have moved away as far away as possible from the camp as residents have been dying from stray bullets or the Katyushas," Haddar told The Daily Star, adding: "It is like a war zone here."
Meanwhile, the Fatah commander in Lebanon Khaled Arif denounced the firing of Katyushas by Fatah al-Islam as "criminal."
"Fatah al-Islam wants to destroy the close relations between the residents of Akkar and Nahr al-Bared camp and between the Lebanese and the Palestinians by firing these rockets," Arif told The Daily Star.
The use of Katyusha rockets appears to be a new tactic used by the militants to ease the army's pressure on its fighters.
Arif said that Fatah al-Islam got these rockets from its parent group, Fatah al-Intifada, contrary to earlier reports that the militants confiscated them from Fatah and other groups after they evacuated the camp earlier this month.
"There were no problems between Lebanese residents in the North and the Palestinians of Nahr al-Bared unit Fatah al-Islam showed up," he added.
Almost all of the camp's 31,000 residents have been evacuated, as well as Palestinian militants not involved in the showdown. The families of Fatah al-Islam fighters, about 50 children and 20 women, remained in the camp after refusing evacuation efforts, relief workers and Palestinian sources told The Daily Star in earlier interviews.
The army also released a statement on Thursday calling on the Lebanese citizens residing in the areas near the camp to head to the army headquarters in Tripoli to fill out applications for compensation.
Meanwhile, judicial sources said that two more Lebanese citizens suspected of links to Fatah al-Islam were arrested as reports emerged that three extremists were arrested in a series of raids in the towns of Jib Janine and Kamed al-Lawz in the eastern Bekaa.
Fatah al-Islam spokesman Abu Salim Taha told the pro-Syrian newspaper Ad-Diyar on Thursday that his group had hundreds of members willing to act as suicide bombers if the army did not stop its assaults.
"We are ready to move to the next level and there are many cards we haven't played yet. If the army insists on continuing the battles, we will use one of these cards," said Taha. "We have hundreds of martyrs who were prepared to go to Palestine who will detonate themselves on the Lebanese Army if the battles continue."
Meanwhile, in Brussels, the European Union condemned Fatah al-Islam's attacks on the Lebanese Army.
The EU Council "reiterates its condemnation of the attacks on Lebanese security forces by terrorist groups operating from Palestinian camps," said the statement agreed by EU ambassadors and due to be adopted by EU foreign ministers next week.
The Daily Star