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Army Ends Nahr al-Bared Operation, Declares Victory Over Terrorists

Retrieved from Naharnet on June 22, 2007

 Defense Minister Elias Murr declared victory over Fatah al-Islam terrorists, saying the month-long military operation has ended but that the siege of the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared will continue until the militants surrendered.

 "The military operations in Nahr al-Bared camp have ended, but the camp will remain encircled until the total surrender of Fatah al-Islam," Murr told Kalam al-Nass on LBC television late Thursday. He was referring to the al-Qaida inspired group.

 "I dedicate this victory to the Lebanese people," he announced.

 "The Lebanese army has destroyed all Fatah Islam positions," Murr said.

 "The Lebanese army has crushed those terrorists. The army is combing the area," he said, adding that troops were now carrying out searches and operations to disarm unexploded ordnance.

 Murr said that "the military operation is over," but stressed that the camp would remain "a theater of operations and under siege" until the militants surrendered.

 Military officials said army experts were clearing buildings, streets and houses of explosives placed by the militants.

 He said a "large number" of Fatah al-Islam commanders had been killed over the past month, while leader Shaker Abssi, deputy leader Abu Hureira and others were on the run, suggesting they were hiding in the camp among several thousand Palestinian civilians still holed up there.

 A few hours before Murr's announcement, sporadic shooting by army artillery and tanks could be heard in the camp as plumes of black and white smoke rose into the sky.

 "What is happening now is some cleanup that the army's heroes are carrying out, and dismantling some mines," he said.

 His comments came after a few days after the Lebanese took control of Nahr al-Bared's fringes in what has become known as the "new camp."

 The remaining terrorists are now holed up in a small portion of Nahr al Bared known as the "old camp" – a densely populated neighborhood of single-storey buildings and narrow streets on the southern tip of the shantytown where most of the Palestinian refugees lived. 

 Murr said that a total of 76 soldiers had died since the battle broke out on May 20, and that another 150 had been wounded. He also said that there are about 100 Fatah al-Islam militants injured in the gunbattles. 

 That brought to at least 143 people killed in the deadliest violence since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

 Some Cabinet ministers and members of the anti-Syria governing coalition have claimed Fatah Islam was created by Syrian intelligence to destabilize Lebanon, a charge denied by both Syria and Fatah Islam.

 Sheik Mohammed Haj of the Palestinian Scholars Association, a mediator who met with the militant group's leaders in recent days, said Fatah al-Islam "has declared a cease-fire and will comply with the Lebanese army's decision to end military operations."

 He said the militants would abide by conditions set by the army to end the fighting, but he would not elaborate. TV stations and newspapers said the deal included handing over Fatah al-Islam's wounded and dismantling the group.(AP-AFP-Naharnet)


 Pope: Lebanon Present in Church's Prayers

 Pope Benedict XVI has expressed concern over the situation in the Middle East, and said the Holy Land, Iraq and Lebanon were very much present in the church's prayers.

 "The Holy Land, Iraq and Lebanon are present, with the urgency and the constancy that they deserve, in the prayers and actions of the Holy See and the whole church," Benedict told an audience of Catholic bishops Thursday.

 "The long-sought and long-awaited peace unfortunately is still largely offended," by violence, the pontiff said. Violence "often degenerates into war, whether or not declared, and ends up becoming a pressing international problem, as is today," he said.

 "I knock on the heart of those who have specific responsibilities to ask that they adhere to the important duty of guaranteeing peace to everybody indistinctly, setting it free from the fatal disease of religious, cultural, historic or geographic discrimination."

 In a pilgrimage Sunday in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, Benedict launched one of his strongest appeals for an end to the "horrors" of fighting and terrorism in Iraq and the Middle East, and decried "the illusion" that force could resolve conflicts.

 The Pope also deplored the "feeling of abandonment" experienced by Iraq's Christian communities during an audience with the patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East.

 He denounced the slaying of a Catholic priest in Iraq as a "barbaric killing."

 "Particularly in Iraq, the homeland of so many of the Assyrian faithful, Christian families and communities are feeling increasing pressure from insecurity, aggression and a sense of abandonment," Benedict said.

 Christians make up just 3 percent of Iraq's 26 million people. The major Christian groups include Chaldean-Assyrians and Armenians, with small numbers of Roman Catholics.

 "Many of them see no other possibility than to leave the country and to seek a new future abroad," the pontiff said. "These difficulties are a source of great concern to me, and I wish to express my solidarity with the pastors and the faithful of the Christian communities who remain there, often at the price of heroic sacrifices."(AP-AFP-Naharnet)