TRIPOLI, Lebanon, (Reuters) – Lebanese Islamists on Thursday sought the surrender of al Qaeda-inspired militants of the Fatah al-Islam group, locked in deadly battles with troops at a Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon.
Two members of Lebanon’s Islamic Action Front went to the Nahr al-Bared camp for talks with Fatah al-Islam’s military commander Shahin Shahin, the front’s leader Fathi Yakan said. “They (Fatah al-Islam) have reached a dead end. They can only surrender,” Yakan told Reuters in the city of Tripoli, just south of Nahr al-Bared. “The only thing that will convince them is sharia (Islamic law), and religious reason.”
The Islamic Action Front groups Sunni politicians and clerics close to Lebanon’s Syrian-backed opposition, which is dominated by Shi’ite and Christian factions.
The outcome of the attempted mediation was not immediately clear. Previous efforts by Palestinian leaders to broker a solution have failed to end the fighting, which began on May 20. The battles are Lebanon’s deadliest internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Security souces said a Lebanese soldier was killed on Thursday, bringing to 115 the total death toll, including 47 soldiers and 38 militants. Three soldiers were also wounded.
In the squalid Nahr al-Bared camp, abandoned by most of its 40,000 residents, soldiers used artillery and machineguns against Fatah al-Islam’s positions in overnight fighting.
The army and the government say Fatah al-Islam started the conflict and have repeatedly called for its men to lay down their arms and surrender, demands the group has rejected. “The army is continuing to put pressure on the militants. They are surrounded and there is no option for them but to surrender,” a military source said.
The authorities charged three more members of Fatah al-Islam with terrorism on Thursday, bringing to 30 the total indicted, judicial sources said. The charges carry the death penalty.
The violence is the latest jolt to stability in Lebanon, already in the midst of a 6-month-old political crisis.
Four bombs have also exploded in the Beirut area, killing one person and wounding dozens, since the Nahr al-Bared fighting began.
In Ain al-Hilweh, Lebanon’s largest refugee camp, some residents said they feared more violence after clashes earlier this week between the army and the militant Jund al-Sham group.
A 40-member force made up of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah group and three Islamist factions has deployed at the camp’s northern entrance, where two soldiers and two militants were killed in firefights that erupted on Sunday. “I am not comfortable with the force deployment because it cannot repel Jund al-Sham. If it was able to, it would have exterminated them in the first place,” said Nabil al-Jammal, a vegetable seller in the camp in south Lebanon near Sidon. “The schools are empty because people are still worried something might happen.”
Palestinian factions, including Fatah and the Islamist Hamas group, oppose Fatah al-Islam, which shares al Qaeda’s ideology of global jihad and recruits fighters from other Arab countries. They are also hostile to Jund al-Sham, a small group which is based in Ain al-Hilweh and has links to Fatah al-Islam.
A 1969 agreement prevents the army from entering Lebanon’s 12 camps, home to about half its 400,000 Palestinian refugees.