Image: Lebanese army trucks
Two Lebanese army trucks block the road of the southern entrance of the Palestinian refugee camp Wednesday, as Palestinian carrying their belongings flee from the camp of Nahr el-Bared, in the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon.
updated 7/11/2007 4:26:31 PM ET 2007-07-11T20:26:31

More than 150 civilians fled from a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon on Wednesday as soldiers ringing the neighborhood moved up tanks and armored vehicles for a possible showdown with Islamic militants barricaded inside.

The army build-up came after a sniper inside the Nahr el-Bared camp killed a Lebanese soldier overnight, following repeated refusals by the al-Qaida-inspired group Fatah Islam to surrender.

A senior military officer said an attack was looming after several days of little combat, but would not say when it would take place.

“This state of attrition cannot continue. At the end there will be a military operation,” he told The Associated Press. “But there isn’t a specific time for it to start,” he added, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give press statements.

Samar Kadi, an International Red Cross official, said some 150 Palestinians had left Nahr el-Bared with help from the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Most of the camp’s 30,000 residents already fled near daily fighting that began May 20, but a few thousand are thought to have stayed in their homes. Those fleeing Wednesday were mostly men, accompanied by some women and a few children.

“They looked exhausted and dirty but very relieved to be out,” Kadi said.

'A final end'
Witnesses said soldiers searched the Palestinians at a checkpoint near the camp’s southern entrance, before allowing them to climb into Red Crescent ambulances and army trucks.

Refugees suspected of ties with Fatah Islam were taken for questioning by the army. Some were later freed, while others were detained for further questioning, the witnesses said.

Among those fleeing were fighters of the Palestinian Fatah movement and other factions who stayed in the camp to defend positions against attack by Fatah Islam. They were reportedly urged to leave by their leaders in Beirut in anticipation of an army assault.

Witnesses said the army began moving in reinforcements to the Nahr el-Bared area near the northern port city of Tripoli a few days ago, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and additional troops.

In a speech ahead of Thursday’s anniversary of the start of Israel’s war with Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon last summer, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora called for “putting a final end” to the standoff at Nahr el-Bared.

Heavy damage
Fighting at Nahr el-Bared erupted May 20 and parts of the camp have sustained heavy damage. Lebanese officials claimed victory June 21 after soldiers seized Fatah Islam positions on the camp’s edges, but the militants retreated deeper into the warren of narrow lanes of densely packed buildings and continued to engage in daily firefights.

The Lebanese soldier killed late Tuesday was the 86th to die in the battle, said a military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements. He said the shot was fired by a Fatah Islam sniper in the camp.

At least 60 militants and more than 20 civilians also have been reported killed in the fighting, the country’s worst internal violence since the 1975-90 civil war.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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