NAHR AL-BARED, Lebanon (AFP) – The Lebanese army resumed its air raids and shelling of militants holed up at Nahr al-Bared on Saturday after evacuating the last remaining civilians from the battered refugee camp.
Helicopters carried out repeated raids dropping 250- and 400-kilogram bombs on the small area still controlled by the Al-Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam militants while tanks shelled the camp, an AFP correspondant witnessed.
“Pressure on the militants will be maintained until they heed our call to surrender,” an army spokesman said.
He said information gathered from the 63 women and children who were evacuated from the camp on Friday could help the army in its final assault on the militants.
The group of civilians, including the wife and children of Fatah al-Islam chief Shaker al-Abssi, were handed over to their families overnight after questioning by the army, a cleric told AFP.
“The process of handing over the group of 63 women and children to their families began overnight,” Sheikh Mohammed Hajj, spokesman for a group of Palestinian clerics who acted as go-betweens, said.
Two of the children evacuated were hospitalized after leaving the camp and three women were injured, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
Some of the women and children released by the army went to two Palestinian refugee camps — Beddawi, which is close to the main northern city of Tripoli, and Ain al-Helweh in south Lebanon, he said.
About 25 or 30 of them who are Syrian or Syrian-Palestinian were meanwhile sent to Syria, Hajj added. Among them were the wife and children of Abssi.
Their evacuation on Friday opened the way for a final assault by the army on the remaining militants, who have been battling the army since May 20, refusing repeated calls to surrender and face a fair trial.
The Lebanese army chief of staff, General Michel Suleiman, told reporters on Friday after the civilians were evacuated that “the end of military operations is nearing.”
The militants, thought to number about 70, have been besieged for the past two months in a small area in the south of the camp, hiding in well equipped underground shelters, according to the army.
The advance of troops has been hampered by the camp’s winding streets and booby traps and mines planted by the militants.
Hajj said his organization was attempting to evacuate a number of injured Fatah al-Islam fighters from the camp.
At least 200 people, including 142 soldiers, have been killed in the fighting, Lebanon’s deadliest internal unrest since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The vast majority of Nahr al-Bared’s 31,000 residents fled at the start of the fighting.