Video: Violence erupts in Lebanon

updated 7/12/2007 12:58:56 PM ET 2007-07-12T16:58:56

Four soldiers were killed Thursday in one of the Lebanese army’s largest operations yet against al-Qaida-inspired Islamic militants in a Palestinian refugee camp, the military said.

The army pounded suspected hideouts of Fatah Islam fighters in the Nahr el-Bared camp with tank and artillery fire, sending up a blanket of black smoke. The army denied it was conducting a final assault against the group, which has vowed not to surrender.

Thursday’s fatalities brought to 90 the number of soldiers killed since fighting began on May 20. An armored personnel carrier was seen ferrying at least two wounded soldiers out of the camp. The military said one soldier was killed by a sniper overnight but did not say how the three other soldiers were killed.

'Final end' to standoff?
In an address marking the anniversary of the start of Israel’s war with Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora called late Wednesday for “putting a final end” to the standoff at Nahr el-Bared.

Soldiers seized Fatah Islam positions on the camp’s edges last month, but the militants retreated deeper into the warren of densely packed buildings and continued to engage in daily fire fights.

At least 60 militants and more than 20 civilians have been reported killed in the fighting, the country’s worst internal violence since the 1975-90 civil war. The camp housed more than 30,000 Palestinian refugees before the battles began.

Residents flee
Most of the camp’s residents have fled, but a few thousand are thought to have stayed in their homes. Samar Kadi, an International Red Cross official, said more than 150 Palestinians fled Wednesday and witnesses said those suspected of ties with Fatah Islam were taken for questioning by the army.

Among those fleeing were fighters of the Palestinian Fatah movement and other factions who stayed in the camp to defend their own positions against attack by Fatah Islam.

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