Lebanese army ready for ceasefire with militants


Beirut : The Lebanese army is ready to impose a ceasefire if Fatah al-Islam militants with links to Al-Qaeda halt attacks against its troops in northern Lebanon, a Lebanese security source has said.

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The Nahr al-Bared refugee camp near Tripoli has been under siege from two days of fighting between the Lebanese forces and Fatah al-Islam militants holed up in the refugee centre.

About 150 members of Fatah al-Islam are believed to have taken shelter in the camp after trying to rob a bank. The fighting has left dozens of people dead and humanitarian groups have raised concerns that the violence could be taking a toll on civilians.

The announcement of a possible ceasefire late Monday came about an hour after a huge explosion rocked the Verdun area of Beirut late Monday, wounding at least 10 people.

Initial police reports said the explosion was caused by a car bomb.

A Red Cross volunteer on the scene told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that at least 10 people were transferred by ambulances for treatment.

Dozen of cars were burned and some remained on fire amid the massive damage.

The explosion took place near the Dune shopping mall in the luxurious area of Verdun, which is considered a primarily Sunni Moslem area and is located just a few metres away from the home of House Speaker Nabih Berri.

This was the second explosion in the capital in less than 24 hours. Late Sunday, an explosion rocked the Ashrafiyeh neighbourhood in east Beirut, killing a woman and wounding 12 other people.

Fatah al-Islam has denied any links with the two explosions, but the Lebanese army is investigating the explosions that seemed similar in the way they were planted.

Several explosions have rocked Christian neighbourhoods in the past two years, but this is the first explosion in a predominantly Muslim upper class area.

Meanwhile in Tripoli, the sound of shelling and machinegun fire eased off as night fell, following intensified shelling by the Lebanese army on the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in northern Lebanon.

The sound of sporadic machinegun fire was heard, as Lebanese soldiers were on a high state of alert in anticipation of any attack by the alleged al-Qaeda-linked group Fatah al-Islam.

Black smoke had poured from the camp earlier Monday while the sound of heavy machinegun fire echoed across the nearby port of Tripoli.

Tanks pounded the coastal camp, which is home to some 30,000 refugees, as Fatah al-Islam fighters used grenades and automatic weapon fire against army posts just outside the camp.

According to Palestinian sources inside the besieged camp, the situation among its some 30,000 residents is "miserable."

"Some of the wounded died under the rubble as no one was able to help them due to the intensity of the shelling," the source said.

Sultan abu al-Anyian, the spokesman of the mainstream Fatah movement in Lebanon, issued an appeal for an "immediate ceasefire" to avoid any civilian loses in the camp.

Lebanese army sources said a shooting incident occurred near an army base in Abdeh in northern Lebanon, killing three Lebanese soldiers. The incident raised the death toll among the Lebanese to 30 killed since Sunday.

A government source said "the government is keen to end the situation with the minimum civilian loses."

A Palestinian source from inside the camp said that at least 50 people had been killed or wounded in the latest shelling.

The source said more people were still buried under rubble, and the number of casualties was bound to rise.

Earlier, security sources had said the latest shelling killed at least eight civilians inside the camp, raising the death toll in two days of fighting to at least 70.

The Director of UNRWA affairs in Lebanon, Richard Cook, expressed deep concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation and the loss of civilian lives.