Brief ceasefire sends hundreds fleeing from refugee camp
UN convoy hauling supplies comes under attack
Hundreds ofpeople fled a crowded refugee camp in northern Lebanon on Tuesday evening during a brief break in the fighting that has blazed for three days between Lebanese soldiers and Islamist militants.
"People just made a dash for it," Reuters reporter Khaled Yacoub Oweis told CBC News by telephone from Beirut. "They put white flags on their cars and drove away at full speed."
Oweis, believed to be the only journalist to have made it inside the camp near Tripoli on Tuesday, said the camp is a scene of devastation. Homes and buildings have gaping holes in them, cars are burned and people are lying dead and wounded in pools of blood in the streets.
The estimated 31,000 refugees trapped inside, most of them Palestinian, have no electricity and little accessto food, water or medical supplies, Oweis said. He said aid workersdid manage to get some food inside Tuesday, but the refugees were so angry at the delayed arrival of supplies that they threw rocks at the convoy.
"They are really outraged and desperate," Oweis said, describing the mood of the trapped refugees. "The mood was of anger and disappointment."
Earlier Tuesday, a UN convoy attempting to deliver food to the camp was hit in the crossfire of the raging gun battle and may have suffered casualties. The convoy was forced to turn around before entering the camp.
The fighting — Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war — eruptedSunday betweenthe police and military, andFatah Islam, a small group of militants who are thought to have links to al-Qaeda.
The militants retreated into the camp, which the troops can't enter undera deal between Lebanon's government and Palestinian officials. Since then, the refugees have been caught in small arms fire and shelling from both sides.
Thebattles have so far killed at least 27 civilians,32 soldiers and 20militants, according to a count by Reuters news agency. However, the numbers could not be confirmed and the Red Cross has been barred from entering the camp.
Lebanon's cabinet reportedly gave the army the green light to win the battle by any means necessary, ordering it to destroyFatah Islam.
Butanalysts said they didn'tforesee the army shatteringthe long-standing agreement not to enterthe Palestinian camps that house roughly500,000 people in Lebanon.
A spokesman for Fatah Islam,, a group estimated to haveas few as 150 members, said in an Al-Jazeera television interview that the militants were "compelled to be in this confrontation with the Lebanese army."
Bomb blasts in Beirut
Meanwhile, Canadian Foreign Affairs is advising Canadians against any unnecessary travel to Beirut.
Late Monday night in Beirut, a bomb exploded in a Muslim shopping district, wounding about a dozen people the day after a similar attack killed a woman and wounded about 10 people.
Reuters reported that a faxed statement in the name of Fatah Islam claimed responsibility for the blasts, but a spokesman denied involvement.
The violence started when police seeking bank robbers raided a suspected hideout in Tripoli on Sunday, sparking a gunfight between the militantsand police. Troops were called in to help as the fighting spread.
More militants then burst out of the refugee camp, seizing Lebanese army positions, capturing two armoured vehicles and ambushing troops.
With files from the Associated Press