05/21/2007, 00.00
LEBANON
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Tripoli, fresh clashes between the Lebanese army and Fatah Islam

Battles continue in the Northern city in the aftermath of yesterday’s violence between the army and militants from the Palestinian group linked to al Qaeda. Political leaders and population are unanimous in their condemnation. Even the Sunni Mufti accuses the group of misusing Islam. Patriarch Sfeir condemns the clashes.

Tripoli (AsiaNews) – The Lebanese army carried out fresh target bombings of Fatah Islam bases in the city of Tripoli this morning.  The renewed offensive against the group linked to Al Qaeda, took place just hours after deadly violence, which left 22 soldiers and 17 Palestinian militants dead.

The clashes between the army and the Fatah Islam group began in the city of Tripoli (Northern Lebanon) and then spread to the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp, which houses 40 thousand Palestinians.  According to observers it’s the worst violence involving the Lebanese army in the last decade.  

Fighting broke out after police raided suspected Fatah Islam hideouts in several buildings in Tripoli, searching for men wanted in a recent bank robbery. Fatah Islam is suspected of having close ties with Al Qaeda.

Following the intervention of army reinforcements, other militants took up arms, causing the fighting to spread in some Tripoli neighbourhoods and to the Narh el-Bared refugee camp.

Until yesterday, the security force toll had reached 22 soldiers killed, 19 wounded and 14 police wounded.  It is reported that 10 militants were killed among them one of their leaders, Abu Yazan. Doctors confirm that there are upwards of 17 Palestinian civilians among the dead, including 3 women and 4 children.

Fouad Sinora’s government has states that it will do whatever it takes to wipe-out terrorism in Northern Lebanon.   According to government members, Fatah Islam is supported by Syria and is being used to undermine government stability.  The group is also held responsible for various terrorist attacks in Beirut.

Yesterday’s and today’s violence add to the country’s overall instability, immersed as it is in a political crises, with Sinora’s government stalled by an opposition boycott supported by Hezbollah.

The vast majority of Lebanese support the military operation.  Even the Republic’s Mufti, Sheikh Mohammed Gabbani, the highest Sunni religious authority condemned the “aggression” committed by “outlaws who identify themselves with Islam but who humiliate its very principals”.

 The Maronite Patriarch card. Nassrallah Sfeir condemned Sunday’s attacks, appealing to authorities to insure peace for all in, adding “these clashes are threatening the country’s stability [and] are the product of enemies to the country and the truth”.  Sunday’s clashes were accompanied by a late night car bomb explosion in the ABC shopping centre, in the Christian quarter of Achrafieh, causing the death of a woman, Leila Mokbel, and wounding 15 other people. In the explosion, the primary school "Zahret el Ehsan" was destroyed, 15 cars burned and the windows of many neighbouring houses smashed.

 

 

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