Violence in Lebanon: story and picture slideshow

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In the worst fighting in northern Lebanon since the civil war ended in 1990, the Lebanese army clashed with Islamist militants from Fatah al-Islam – a militant group based in a refugee camp close to Tripoli.

The FT presents a special interactive slideshow with photos by Jeroen Kramer telling the story of the siege of Nahr el-Bared refugee camp.

The fighting around the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp began early on Sunday May 20 as the Lebanese army pursued Islamic militants who were using the camps as a base.

Initially, it began with gunfire, but as the army laid siege to the camp of more than 30,000 refugees they began pounding it with artillery and tank fire. The Fatah al-Islam fighters returned fire with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, causing the frightened civilians to cower in their homes as they became caught in the cross-fire.

Some said if they dared to venture out they were targeted by sniper fire, unable to tell from which side it was coming.

A few of the sick and wounded were lucky enough to be evacuated by the Palestinian Red Crescent, which has a presence in the camp. But most were trapped until an uneasy truce came into effect late on Tuesday night.

Then, people began streaming out in their thousands, recounting tales of many wounded, widespread destruction and bodies lying on the camp’s narrow streets.

Because of the lack of access to Nahr al-Bared, it is unclear how many of the camp’s residents were wounded or killed, but more than 70 people, including some 30 soldiers, militants and civilians are thought to have died in the violence.

Most of those who fled have moved to the nearby Beddawi camp, itself home to some 16,000 Palestinian refugees. Many of the wounded were taken to a small, over-worked hospital in Beddawi; the able went to schools in the camp where they were given bread and water and registered, before settling in to sleep on the floor until it becomes safe for them to return.

The army still surrounds the camp, with government officials saying the Fatah al-Islam militants have two choices – give themselves up or face more fighting.

The group is said to be an off-shoot of Fatah Intifadah, a pro-Syrian organisation, and includes Palestinian and foreign fighters. Under a long-standing agreement, the Lebanese army is not allowed to enter the camps - which the Palestinian groups are responsible for policing - of which there are 12 in Lebanon. However, the settlements have become home to criminal gangs and radical groups.

The fighting around Nahr al-Bared erupted after Lebanese security forces raided an apartment in Tripoli, south of the camp, in pursuit of suspects alleged to have been involved in a bank robbery in the city. The militants fought back and launched a series of attacks and ambushes against Lebanese soldiers.

There are some 400,000 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, many of whom have been there since the creation of Israel in 1948.

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