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French Version

Smiles all around after army win at Nahr al-Bared

Smiles all around after army win at Nahr al-Bared

While the Lebanese Army was still engaging and rounding up stray Fatah al-Islam elements in and around the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp Monday, and with the ...

While the Lebanese Army was still engaging and rounding up stray Fatah al-Islam elements in and around the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp Monday, and with the guns having barely fallen silent after more than 100 of fighting, people tried to return to their bullet-riddled homes on the fringes of the camp to survey the damage. Many were turned back.

The mood at the northern entrance to the camp was decidedly jubilant, with traffic back to pre-war levels and Lebanese flags fluttering from car windows, armored personnel carriers and rooftops. Relieved and ecstatic army soldiers fired off thousands of rounds into the early morning sky in celebrations. Many looked scruffy and exhausted but spirits were high.

Mohammad Ali Baqer, his brother and uncle returned to survey the damage inflicted on their homes located on both sides of the Abde highway, a notoriously dangerous road targeted by Fatah al-Islam snipers during the fighting. "There was only minor damage, just bullet holes," Baqer said, but added they were only allowed on one side of the road by the Lebanese Army. The side bordering the camp, where his brother's house is located, remains off-limits.

"My uncle and brother cannot get to their homes, the army is still using them," Baqer said, watching a soldier wash his armored personnel carrier outside his uncle's house. "We left in the first few days of fighting. At first we stayed and helped the army, we used hunting rifles against the terrorists, but what use are hunting rifles against RPGs?"

Baqer's family also had agricultural lands along the border with the now-destroyed camp, and much of it lies in ruins. "The army bulldozed many of our crops, we had greenhouses where we grew tomatoes and cucumbers, they are all gone. The army was concerned the terrorists would infiltrate through the thick vegetation," Baqer said.

Nonetheless, Baqer, his extended family and neighbors were thrilled and expressed their happiness at the army's victory by standing in the middle of traffic, dancing to the rhythm of a Lebanese tabla as curious motorists slowed to watch. Baqer and his neighbors and friends camped on plastic lawn chairs outside their homes watching army convoys pass and heavy traffic return to the area after a long absence. "We do not want government assistance, we just want the situation to improve and for everyone to live in peace again," Baqer said.

Rasmiya Ahmad al-Youssef, Baqer's Palestinian neighbor, left her home three days after the fighting started, and for the last three months her home has been a room in a school in the Baddawi refugee camp. "We Palestinians celebrated when we heard of the army's victory. In the end these terrorists made us all homeless. We just thank God its over," Rasmiya said.

She returned with her son on Monday to try to retrieve identification cards and documents from their house, a three-story building barely 100 meters from the main road bordering the camp. "The army did not let us go in, they said it was too dangerous, they are afraid for our safety," Rasmiya said.

The mukhtar of Bibnine, Mahmoud Abbas, said the people of Akkar have always embraced their Palestinian brothers and will welcome the displaced back when they return to the camp. "We took in 150 Palestinian families displaced from the camp. We did not put them in schools, but rather took them into our homes. I used to pass out food and medical aid to them myself."

Abbas said it was the terrorist gang that created a rift between the Lebanese people in the villages around the camp and the Palestinians; he said both people had coexisted in harmony for decades. "The people of Bibnine are honest and kind. Our only enemy is this terrorist gang. The Palestinians are our brothers," Abbas stressed.

The mukhtar said the people of Bibnine are ecstatic at the army's victory over the terrorists in Nahr al-Bared, adding that this was a victory for all the people, especially the people of Akkar. "Three months of suffering and deprivation are now all forgotten, the people here have more to offer their army," Abbas said.

Youssef Masri's cousin, Ahmad Masri, a Lebanese Army corporal, died on the first day of clashes on Mitain Street in Tripoli, where security forces surrounded a group of Fatah al-Islam militants. Youssef said the army's victory was a celebration for the whole country. "Last night everyone, the young and the old, came out of their homes to dance and celebrate the army's victory," Youssef said.

"Many said our army was classically trained and it was wrong to thrust them into the fight; our army proved both strong and capable," Youssef said with a twinkle of pride in his eyes. His own brother, although not involved in the fighting, was wounded in the head, arm and leg when a mortar round landed only meters away from where he was standing.

Youssef owns a small shop in Abde and business has been hit hard. "We keep going, doing little business within the town, all the battles were fought for our people and our country, our battle was against terrorism and not the Palestinian people."

Beirut 04-09-2007
The Daily Star

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