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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Lebanese minister: Militants defeated


Staff and agencies21 June, 2007
By HUSSEIN DAKROUB, Associated Press Writer 2 minutes ago
BEIRUT, Lebanon - The defense minister said Thursday the Fatah Islam militant group holed up in a northern refugee camp has been defeated after a monthlong military operation, and that only mopping up remained.
The fighting in Nahr el-Bared, Lebanon‘s worst internal violence since the 1975-90 civil war, has claimed the lives of more than 150 people, including 75 soldiers, at least 60 militants and more than 20 civilians. It comes amid a fierce power struggle between Lebanon‘s government and the opposition led by the militant Hezbollah group.
He said "the military operation is over. The Lebanese army has crushed those terrorists."
"What is happening now is some cleanup that the army‘s heroes are carrying out, and dismantling some mines," he said.
He said a "large number" of Fatah Islam leaders have been killed in the fighting, while leader Shaker al-Absi and his deputy, Abu Hureira, and others were on the run, suggesting they were hiding deep inside the camp among the local population.
In a newspaper interview published earlier in the day, Murr vowed to defeat the militants. He also cautioned the country‘s politicians against concluding the Fatah Islam militants have links with Syria, saying it was too early to tell, according to Nahar Ash-Shabab, a weekly supplement of Lebanon‘s leading An-Nahar newspaper.
Some Cabinet ministers in the Western-backed government and members of the anti-Syrian coalition have claimed Fatah Islam was created by Syrian intelligence to destabilize Lebanon. Both Syria and Fatah Islam have denied the accusation.
The resumption of fighting came a day after Palestinian mediators presented to the Lebanese army a cease-fire deal they negotiated with the militants that would include their disarmament.
The defense minister said the army launched its offensive against the militants on May 20 after 30 soldiers were killed by "treachery." He did not give details, but security officials have said that 13 were killed while they slept in their tents in the northern town of Tripoli.
On Wednesday, Lebanese troops had advanced against Islamic militants, taking over several buildings, including one that was known to be a major Fatah Islam stronghold, security officials said.
Officials said that military experts were clearing buildings, streets and houses of explosives placed by the militants.
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