NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 5/23/2007 12:27:29 PM ET 2007-05-23T16:27:29

NBC News’ Richard Engel is in Tripoli, where thousands of Palestinians have fled a besieged refugee camp, as the standoff continues between the Lebanese army and militant group Fatah Islam. In a phone conversation, he relayed what’s happening on the ground there. Here are excerpts:

Where he is:
In the Badawi Palestinian refugee camp, where many of the 10,000 to 15,000 civilians who fled the besieged Nahr el-Bared camp are taking shelter. There are around 400,000 Palestinians residing in the country, 30,000 to 40,000 of whom normally live in the Nahr el-Bared camp.

Seeing the injured, dead:
He went to a hospital where he watched the injured arrive in ambulances, and was taken to a morgue where the staff pulled out bodies, some of which had been shot by snipers. One had a bullet through his head. Others were caught in collapsed buildings. Survivors were all saying that the Lebanese army was shelling the camp indiscriminately.

Family loses everything
He also went to a school that was being used as a shelter for refugees from the Nahr el-Bared camp. He spoke to a family of 10 who left their home Tuesday, just minutes before it was destroyed by a Lebanese army artillery shell. They said they lost everything.

How Fatah Islam is viewed there
Many different groups normally operate in the Nahr el-Bared camp. One group will control 3-square blocks and the others control the same amount. Most try to mind their own business and not get involved in each others affairs. Fatah Islam is just one of these jihadist or al-Qaida inspired groups. Although it is proving to be much better armed, equipped, and trained than the Lebanese Army anticipated, it doesn’t have huge support from the Palestinians.

Pandora’s Box opened
Fatah Islam existed in the camp with the quiet acquiescence of the Lebanese government. But, due to an intelligence failure, Lebanese police chasing bank robbers on Sunday opened this Pandora’s Box of problems. Only then did the Lebanese army realize how deeply the militants were entrenched in the camp. Neither side wanted this fight, but both are stuck in a standoff as the army refuses to back off without a complete surrender which Fatah Islam has refuses to give.

How the refugees feel
The fleeing families feel that they are caught --  that as Palestinians they have been refugees all their lives, and once again they are refugees. Rather than focusing just on this one situation, they focus on the bigger issue of getting their homeland back. They also say the Lebanese government is indiscriminately shelling their homes without giving them a chance to get out.

Hezbollah’s view
Hezbollah does not back Fatah Islam, but it is happy to see Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora’s government entangled in yet another political crises. However, as it sees itself as the champion of the Palestinians, it also doesn’t want to see Palestinians getting killed. Hezbollah may be forced to enter the discourse if the Lebanese army goes into the camp en force.

What’s next?
The Lebanese army could be letting civilians flee the Nahr el-Bared camp so that a major military crackdown on Fatah Islam can be carried out. However, there’s tremendous political sensitivity for the government to take on a new fight as it’s already involved in the fight with Hezbollah. Hundreds of troops are currently encircling the city and could be in for a long standoff.

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