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LEBANON - May 20 - Lebanon Clashes With Islamic Militants.

The Lebanese army battles an Islamic militant group in the northern city of Tripoli in clashes that killed at least 48 people, including 23 soldiers. It was the worst fighting in northern Lebanon since the civil war ended in 1990 and will heighten concerns about further instability in a country that has been beset by a political crisis, sectarian tensions and sporadic violence since last year's conflict between Hizbullah and Israel. Fatah al-Islam, the group involved in the clashes, is a shadowy organisation that is said to have split off last year from the pro-Syrian Fatah Intifadah movement, and has bases in the Nahr al-Bared camp for Palestinian refugees near Tripoli, which was targeted by army tank fire. Officials of the western-backed government have accused Fatah al-Islam of having links to Syrian intelligence and being part of efforts to destabilise the country. Its members were accused of two bus bombings in a Christian area near Beirut in February that killed three people. Fouad Siniora, the PM, said the fighting was a "dangerous attempt at hitting Lebanese security" and called on Lebanese to rally behind the government. Some Lebanese officials have also suggested the movement is a radical Sunni organisation with ties to al-Qaeda. There have been concerns in the west that al-Qaeda could try and take advantage of the political crisis to broaden its reach in Lebanon. The army is prevented from entering Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon due to a long-standing agreement, which has enabled the camps to act as safe havens for criminal gangs and militant groups. The fighting began shortly after security forces raided an apartment in Tripoli seeking suspects involved in a bank robbery. The army used tanks to pound the militant's group's bases in the refugee camp and television footage showed armoured vehicles rumbling through Tripoli as security forces fired rifles along the city's streets. Up to 19 militants were reported killed. Ahmad Fatfat, the youth and sports minister and former interior minister, alleged the fighting was connected to attempts to stymie moves by the western-backed government to get the UN Security Council to set up a tribunal to try suspected killers of Rafiq Hariri, the former leader. Plans for a tribunal have been at the centre of a dispute between the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority and the pro-Syrian opposition led by Hizbullah, which is backed by Damascus. A UN commission investigating the murder has yet to issue its findings. However, progress reports pointed the finger at top Syrian officials. Damascus, which closed parts of its border with Lebanon on May 20, denies those charges as well as the allegations it is linked to Fatah al-Islam. "There is someone trying to create security chaos to say to world public opinion: 'Look, if the tribunal is established, there will be security trouble in Lebanon,'" Fatfat told a Lebanese television channel.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Date:May 26, 2007
Previous Article:ISRAEL - May 24 - Hamas Leaders Detained.
Next Article:LEBANON - May 21 - Lebanese Army Pounds Refugee Camp.

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