Saturday, August 25, 2007

Families leave Lebanon camp

Comment:Once this is over, watch for accusations that this was a massacre.

Here is the beginning of my post. The families of Fatah al-Islam fighters have been allowed to leave the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon after a temporary truce was agreed with the army.The civilians, 22 women and 41 children, left the refugee camp on Friday, more than three months after the Lebanese army first laid siege to it.

Zeina Khodr, Al Jazeera's correspondent outside the camp, said they would be interrogated by the army."They are going to take these women and children to a military barracks for further questioning before they return to their homes, their families, either in Lebanon or abroad," she said.

A military bus and several ambulances were seen leaving the camp on Friday. ConditionsA clerics' delegation trying to mediate an end to the standoff said that the military had accepted a series of conditions to allow the evacuation to go ahead. The army accepted a temporary halt to military operations and agreed that the women would only be searched and interrogated by female soldiers.

Up to 50 Fatah al-Islam fighters are thought to remain inside Nahr al-Bared [AFP]
The women and children have been inside the battered camp since May 20, when the fighting between the army and Fatah al-Islam erupted.The evacuation could pave the way for the army to launch a final assault on the 35 to 50 fighters believed to still be holed up in the camp. Fatah al-Islam's fighters have refused demands to surrender and vowed to fight to the death."Some sources are telling us it [the evacuation] could be a test. Fatah al-Islam would like to see how the Lebanese army deals with the families to see whether there could be a possibility for surrender," Zeina Khodr said.Gunfire and shelling could be heard again shortly after the evacuation on Friday, signalling that the temporary truce was over.

Overnight talks Negotiations on the evacuation began overnight on Monday when Taha contacted Sheikh Mohammed Hajj, spokesman for the Palestinian clerics.After negotiations began on Monday, the army said it would allow the families safe passage from the seafront camp but the delegation of clerics lost contact with the fighters.Most of the about 35,000 residents of the Nahr al-Bared fled shortly after the army began to bombard Fatah al-Islam positions with artillery and tank shells.At least 200 people, including 142 soldiers, have been killed in the standoff, the deadliest internal unrest in Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war.

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