Lebanon Attacks Militants in Refugee Camp Lebanese soldiers stepped up an artillery attack Monday on a crowded Palestinian refugee camp thought to house militants linked to al-Qaida, killing at least five civilians. It was the second day of the siege in the Nahr el-Bared camp near the northern city of Tripoli.
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Lebanon Attacks Militants in Refugee Camp

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Lebanon Attacks Militants in Refugee Camp

Lebanon Attacks Militants in Refugee Camp

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Fighting has continued into a second day in Lebanon. This time it's between the army and members of an Islamist militant group. The fighting is taking place in and around a Palestinian refugee camp in the northern part of the country near the city of Tripoli. And we're going to get more information now from reporter Leena Saidi.

How serious is the fighting?

LEENA SAIDI: The fighting is very serious. The army are actually shelling the camp and there is automatic weapons. The problem here is that the camp is very crowded. We have around 22,000 people living in this camp. And the people inside the camp are saying that they have nothing to do with these militants, but are stuck in the camp. They can't leave and they have no water because the water supplies were blown up.

INSKEEP: This camp's been there for a while, I would presume. I would presume the Islamist group may have been there for a while. What triggered fighting now?

SAIDI: What triggered the fighting was yesterday there was a raid on an apartment building in the northern city of Tripoli, believed to have people who were linked to (unintelligible) day earlier. And it turned out that these people also linked to these militants in the Palestinian camp and they refuse to give themselves up, and fighting ensued between them and the security forces.

INSKEEP: May I ask, before the Lebanese army started trying to use artillery to go into a camp of 22,000 people and strike these militants, did they try to go in on foot and arrest people, or at least track them down in smaller scale fighting?

SAIDI: The problem with the Palestinian camps here in Lebanon is that the army is not able to enter them. There was an agreement that was made in the early '60s not allowing the Lebanese security forces to enter Palestinian camps.

INSKEEP: Are you telling me that the agreement prohibits Lebanese soldiers from walking into a camp, but they seem to think that they're okay with firing artillery shells into the camp?

SAIDI: Yes. The agreement was made in the days when Lebanon was on the brink of civil war and the Palestinians were afraid for their lives.

INSKEEP: And it specifically says you can fire in?

SAIDI: No, it doesn't say you can fire in. The Lebanese government has taken upon itself to say it's okay to fire in. Now, the Lebanese army believe that these militants are attached or linked to al-Qaida. And they have very good security information, that's what they say, about the whereabouts of these people within the camp.

INSKEEP: What are Palestinians saying about the accuracy of that rocket fire?

SAIDI: The Palestinians in the camp are extremely scared, extremely frightened. And they are appealing to the politicians to stop the fighting because bodies are on the ground, civilians have been killed, and there is no way that the Red Cross can come in and help.

INSKEEP: How's all this fighting likely to affect the government of Lebanon, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora?

SAIDI: The fighting will definitely have a grave effect on Siniora's government. He needs to either contain it and prove the army can control the camps. Should the fighting go on and should other Palestinian factions get involved, then this could spread to other parts of the country.

INSKEEP: Is there any sign of a possible resolution here?

SAIDI: At the moment, not really. The only good news is that the fighting on the streets of the city of Tripoli was contained yesterday. And now it is in a specific area. And we are hoping that it will be the Palestinians may be inside the camp that will push the militants outside the camp.

INSKEEP: We've been listening to Leena Saidi, a reporter based in Lebanon, where a militant faction inside a Palestinian refugee camp has been battling Lebanon's army. Thanks very much.

SAIDI: Okay.

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