Islamic militants attacked Lebanese troops at a second Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon on Monday, killing two soldiers. The attacks followed fresh confrontations on Sunday as the Lebanese army pursued its offensive, including heavy shelling, against militants from the Fatah al-Islam group in the Nahr el-Bared camp in the north of the country through the weekend.
The fresh outbreak of violence occurred at the Ain el-Hilweh camp near the southern city of Sidon. Militants from the Jund el-Sham group threw explosives at an army position at the edge of the camp, said a Palestinian leader in Ain el-Hilweh. The army responded and a fire fight ensued.
The Palestinian leader, from the mainstream Fatah movement, said that the factions in the camp were trying to contain the situation. He was convinced that the clashes at Ain el-Hilweh - the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon - and the violence in the north were linked.
The militants in Nahr el-Bared had called on other radical groups to join them in their battle with the army, after fighting escalated on Friday. However, clashes between militants and the army at Ain el Hilweh are not unprecedented.
Fatah al-Islam over the weekend refused renewed demands by the army and the government to surrender. A spokesman said that they would rather die than give up their weapons.
Lebanese security sources said that the army has captured some of the militants’ positions at the edge of the camp since Friday. According to some reports the Fatah al-Islam fighters were being pushed back into the camp but there has been no independent confirmation and the group has denied this.
Since heavy fighting resumed on Friday after a ten day lull, unofficial reports say that nine soldiers have been killed and that at least 16 people - militants and civilians - have died in the camp. The total death toll in the last fortnight is now thought to be over 100.
The confrontation between the group, which claims a spiritual but not a logistical link with al-Qaeda, and the army started on May 20 when the militants stormed out of the camp and killed more than 20 soldiers. After initial heavy fighting, the army laid siege to the camp. It is the largest and most violent internal confrontation since the end of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.
More than 20,000 people have managed to flee the camp which is officially home to some 30,000 Palestinians but there are conflicting reports on how many civilians are left inside. They have been cut off from all aid since Friday.
There is widespread concern over the fate of the remaining civilians.