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Siege Ends at Palestinian Camp in Lebanon

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Siege Ends at Palestinian Camp in Lebanon

Middle East

Siege Ends at Palestinian Camp in Lebanon

Siege Ends at Palestinian Camp in Lebanon

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The Lebanese army has seized control of a Palestinian refugee camp from Islamist militants, ending three months of fighting. More than 300 people died during the siege at Nahr el-Bared.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Here's an update on two countries struggling with militant groups. One country is Afghanistan. As we'll hear in a moment, the Taliban are just one of the Afghans' problems.

We begin in Lebanon, where a three-month standoff ended with a desperate move: a militant group was surrounded inside a Palestinian refugee camp, and that group tried one final attack.

NPR's Deborah Amos is in Beirut, and Deb, what happened?

DEBORAH AMOS: Well, if you piece together the details, it appears that the end of this long saga began yesterday. What the remaining fighters did - and there were three different groups of them - they tried to break out of the camp. The Lebanese army was able to kill or capture most of them. Very few surrendered, and a handful escaped.

Last week, the militants had negotiated a deal with the army to evacuate their wives and children. And after that, it was all-out war against that camp. The army had improvised this weapon, which turned out to be very effective. What they did is they took their 1960 aerial bombs - and it was leftover from when the country had an air force. They slung them off the bottom of helicopters, and they manually guided them to hit these underground bunkers and tunnels where the militants were holding out. And that seemed to be the most effective thing they've done in the last three months.

Now, it appears the leader of the group, of Fatah al-Islam - his name is Shaker Abssi - he was among the dead.

INSKEEP: How significant was this confrontation inside one of these longstanding refugee camps inside Lebanon?

AMOS: People were literally dancing in the streets. That was in the town of Tripoli, where the fighting has been concentrated. Many of those people have relatives in the army. They've lost more than 150 soldiers - 20 civilians, 60 militants.

But what was more important about this, Steve, is that all the communities in this country that is very divided celebrated the end of the crisis. And as many Lebanese see it, after 110 days fighting Fatah al-Islam, the army is the only institution that works in Lebanon. And they see it as they won against Fatah al-Islam.

INSKEEP: So does that mean that Lebanon is becoming more stable?

AMOS: Not necessarily. This was just a battle with one group of militants. This is a country that is a marketplace for extremist ideologies. And they're known by specialists as something called the third generation of al-Qaida. And what that means is you don't have to actually join the group. What you do is you read the Web sites, you agree with the ideology, and you carry out attacks as you want. And we know of at least three main groups in a Palestinian camp that south of the capital. So those will have to be dealt with, too.

INSKEEP: Deborah Amos, I want to ask one other thing. This crisis has reminded us that there are refugee camps that have been in Lebanon for decades, full of Palestinians. And of course, this one had to actually be emptied of people, evacuated because of the fighting. Lebanese were displaced as well. What happens to all of them?

AMOS: The prime minister, he promised to rebuild that refugee camp. That is unprecedented in this country. But, you see, rebuilding raises it's own problems. As you said, the camp was built in 1948. It's expanded out into Lebanese villages, so there are Palestinians mixed in with Lebanese. All of these people lost their homes. So how does the Lebanese government raise money for Palestinians and not take care of Lebanese?

So emotions are high in Tripoli. Their economy has been destroyed by this fight. They are saying that they don't want the Palestinians to be their neighbors anymore. So, in the next couple of weeks, we will see how the government manages this crisis, which raises its own set of questions, just as difficult as the one in fighting Fatah al-Islam.

INSKEEP: We've been listening to NPR's Deborah Amos, who's in Beirut. Deborah, thanks very much.

AMOS: Thank you.

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