Monday, August 13, 2007

Escaped militants 'threaten' attacks in Lebanon

Escaped militants 'threaten' attacks in Lebanon
Audio tape claims group of fighters from nahr al-bared will launch terror campaign in country

Compiled by Daily Star staff

The leader of a Syrian Islamist group claimed in an audio tape aired on Sunday that a group of Fatah al-Islam militants had escaped from the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in North Lebanon, and he hinted they would be launching attacks inside Lebanon soon. Abu Jandal al-Dimashqi, the self-declared leader of Tawhid and Jihad in Syria, also mourned the death of Abu Hureira, the deputy leader of Fatah al-Islam, which has been battling the Lebanese Army in the camp and in Tripoli since May 20. The government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora announced last week that police in Tripoli, about 12 kilometers from the Nahr al-Bared camp, had killed Abu Hureira, a Lebanese whose real name was Shehab al-Qaddour. "The martyrdom of our brother Abu Hureira has fanned the flames," said Dimashqi in an audio tape posted on an Islamic Web site. "Let the government of traitor Siniora know some of Fatah al-Islam's heroes have left the camp and are now among you. Wait for a black day." The authenticity of the audio tape could not be verified, but it was posted on a Web site commonly used by Islamic militants.

Dimashqi criticized residents of Abu Hureira's Northern village of Mishmish for refusing to bury him in the town's cemetery since he fought against the army. Three of the 136 soldiers who have been killed fighting Fatah al-Islam were from Mishmish. A senior army officer said the military took the statement "seriously" and was analyzing it. But the officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the army "does not operate according to statements posted on the Internet, but rather on military plans."

In further developments, the Lebanese Army on Sunday rejected a conditional offer of surrender by the remaining Fatah al-Islam militants."The Islamists' spokesman Shahine Shahine made known an offer to give themselves up to the League of Palestinian Clerics, but this was rejected by the military," said Mohammad al-Hajj, a spokesman for the clerics trying to broker an end to the deadly fighting in the camp. The army is demanding that the remaining Fatah al-Islam militants surrender unconditionally, hand over their weapons and disband Fatah al-Islam, Hajj added. A military spokesman confirmed Hajj's comments. "Fatah al-Islam is in no position to set conditions," he said. "They have no other option but to surrender to the army and be brought to justice."However, we are ready to guarantee that their families be able to leave the camp in a peaceful manner. Let them suggest a mechanism for this, and it will be immediately implemented," the spokesman added. No more than an estimated 60 civilians of the camp's official population of 31,000 remain inside Nahr al-Bared, and these people are thought to be the wives and children of the Islamist fighters.

Also on Sunday, the National News Agency announced that Lebanese troops discovered a tunnel in Nahr al-Bared with furnished rooms "that appear to have been residences for Fatah al-Islam officials." It reported that troops had captured weapons and ammunition as well. The army on Sunday continued bombarding the camp with intermittent artillery fire, targeting underground Fatah al-Islam positions. The Fatah al-Islam militants still control an area of about 1,500 square meters inside the camp. Two rockets launched from inside the Nahr al-Bared camp Sunday morning hit the Akkar plain 4 kilometers away from the camp, although no casualties or damage were reported. Rockets fired from the camp on August 2 hit the Deir Ammar power plant, one of the most important in Lebanon. It is still out of action, which has meant power cuts across the country.A Gazelle - the light attack helicopter recently purchased from France - flew over the camp Sunday without opening fire, after the helicopter gunships had launched strikes on Islamist positions on Thursday and Friday. Over 200 people - among them 136 soldiers - have been killed since the fighting began 12 weeks ago. The toll does not include the bodies of militants that still have to be retrieved from inside the camp. - Agencies

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