NAHR AL-BARED, Lebanon, (Reuters) – Two Lebanese soldiers died overnight in a booby-trapped building at a Palestinian refugee camp where fighting with Islamist militants has lasted for two months, security sources said on Wednesday.
Lebanese troops have entered the battered Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared and seized further territory to try to corner the al Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam militants into surrendering. The fighting has cost the lives of at least 229 people, including 108 soldiers, and is the worst internal violence to hit Lebanon since the civil war ended 17 years ago. At least 81 militants and 40 civilians have been killed since the clashes began on May 20 at the camp and in other areas.
Lebanese security forces have rarely entered Palestinian refugee camps in the past four decades, since a 1969 Arab agreement banned them from doing so. The deal was annulled by the Lebanese parliament in the mid-1980s but the accord effectively stayed in place.
The militants have rigged buildings around and in the camp with mines and booby traps to deter Lebanese soldiers.
Witnesses said clashes erupted at the camp’s main road. The army used artillery and tank shells, while the militants responded with automatic weapons and fired two Katyusha rockets.
Fatah al-Islam is made up of a few hundred mainly Arab fighters who admire al Qaeda but do not claim any organisational links. Some of the fighters have fought in Iraq or were on their way to take part in the conflict there.
Most of Nahr al-Bared’s 40,000 refugees fled in the early days of the fighting, which has left the camp in ruins.
The violence has further undermined stability in Lebanon, where a paralysing 8-month-old political crisis has been compounded by bombings in and around Beirut, the assassination of an anti-Syrian legislator and a fatal attack on U.N. peacekeepers.