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"Tell the Whole World that the People in the Camp are not Terrorists"

Translated Sunday 27 May 2007, by Henry Crapo

Our special envoy has been able to gather testimony from inside the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared, near Tripoli, around which combat continued yesterday. [1]

Lebanon, by special envoy

Despite the fall of night, combat did not really cease around the
Nahr al-Bared camp, where confrontation between the Lebanese army and the small armed group Fatah al-Islam (which has nothing to do with the Palestine Liberation Organization, the PLO) had led to at least 47 deaths (27 military, and 20 armed men) in one day.

Coincidence or not, a bomb exploded at the same time in a Christian quarter of Beirut, claiming one victim, a sixty-year-old lady. Calm returned to Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon, yesterday morning (businesses were open and the army controlled the streets, the schools and universities being closed), yet hundreds of Lebanese military, backed by M-48 tanks and armored vehicles, still encircled the camp of Nahr al-Bared.

The army responded to mortar rounds with artillery fire. According to a Lebanese officer, the fire was directed mainly against buildings known to shelter activists. The army had received orders to "strike hard" against anyone opening fire on them. It is true that smoke rose from several buildings. Street battles were concentrated at the south and east entries to the camp, where the buildings are gutted by shell fire or charred by fire.

An official of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Marwan Adel Al, is in the Nahr al-Bared camp. "Eight civilians were killed this morning", he said to l’Humanité, as we heard a continuous sound of the firing of automatic weapons. "Tell the entire world that the people in the camp are not terrorists. We have nothing to do with Fatah al-Islam. They are not even Palestinians. " Marwan Adel Al also revealed that they had asked for a cease-fire because "if the army wants to fight the Islamists, they shouldn’t be killing children". This demand went unheard, despite the fact that the Lebanese Red Cross, in cooperation with the Palestinian Red Crescent organization, had been able to evacuate some wounded from one part of the camp. Doctors and Palestinian leaders broadcast warnings concerning the situation of civilians in the camp.

"There are civilians killed and many wounded in the streets of the camp". There is neither water nor electricity," declared Doctor Youssef Al Assaad, local director of the Palestinian Red Crescent, explaining that his teams were trying without success to enter the camp. He added, "A shell fell on one of the mosques inside the camp, where many civilians had sought shelter."

Nahr al-Bared houses 22,000 refugees, some 12 kilometers to the north of Tripoli. It’s a miserable camp, bordered on the west by the sea, on the east by a highway leading to the Syrian border.

A spokesman for the group Fatah al-Islam, Abou Salim, warned on Monday that, if the shelling by the army does not stop, the extremist group will fire rockets and shells to carry the battle "beyond Tripoli". "It is a question of life and death. The purpose (of the Lebanese security forces) is to eliminate Fatah al-Islam. We will respond, and we know how to do it", he declared to the Associated Press. Meanwhile, similar combat was reported around the refugee camp Ein el-Hilweh, in the south of Lebanon.

The greatest fear is evidently that the army will attack the camp. In Lebanon it is always difficult to know who is giving the orders. The Minister of Youth and Sports, for example, explained that the army should recoil before nothing, while the Minister of Information, Ghazi Aridi, indicated that entry into the camp was not on the agenda.

The Lebanese daily newspaper Al Akhbar highlighted yesterday, on the front page, reports of disagreements between Internal Security Forces and the army, a lack of coordination that was held responsible for the heavy casualties.

Palestinian officials on the West Bank have kept their distance from this armed group [2], which appeared last autumn, and have called on the occupants of the camp to isolate themselves from these radical elements. Other officials, who met with the Lebanese prime minister on Monday, declared, for their part, that Fouad Siniora wished to protect the civilian population. "If we enter the camp, we still are not assured it will be easy to rid ourselves of this phenomenon", emphasized the PLO representative in Beirut, Abbas Zaki.

[1See also the lead article on this subject.

[2Fatah al-Islam

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