NAHR AL-BARED, Lebanon (AFP) – The Lebanese army and Palestinian clerics on Thursday were still without news from militants inside a besieged refugee camp over arrangements to evacuate civilians, a mediator said.
“Despite all of our efforts to reach Fatah al-Islam we haven’t made contact with them since Tuesday,” Sheikh Mohammed Hajj, spokesman for the clerics, told AFP.
He said the clerics were planning to meet with the army command on Thursday to discuss the possiblity of using loudspeakers or dropping flyers over the Nahr al-Bared camp in order to reach the militants.
Meanwhile, an AFP correspondent saw Lebanese army helicopters launch repeated raids on positions of the Al-Qaeda-inspired group in the battered camp from dawn.
Negotiations to evacuate the civilians began overnight Monday after a Fatah al-Islam spokesman, Abu Salim Taha, contacted the clerics seeking a way out from the battered camp for an estimated 20 women and 50 children.
The army said it had agreed and was ready for a truce that would allow the families safe passage.
According to a source close to the negotiations, among those to be evacuated are the wife of Fatah al-Islam chief Shaker al-Abssi and the widow of his number two, Abu Hureira, who was killed in recent weeks.
Previous mediation attempts over the past three months by the Palestinian clerics aimed at securing the militants’ surrender or the safe conduct of their families have failed.
The remaining militants, thought to number about 70, have been holed up inside the camp since May 20.
At least 200 people, including 142 soldiers, have been killed in the deadliest internal unrest in Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war.