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Night brings unofficial ceasefire to Lebanese refugee camp

Fighting in a refugee camp in Lebanon eased Monday night after Palestinians and the Lebanese military appeared to reach an unofficial ceasefire.

Fighting in the Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanoneased Monday evening after Palestinian militants and the Lebanese military appeared to have reached an unofficial ceasefire.

Smoke billows from the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared on Monday. ((Hussein Malla/Associated Press))
Thebattle, whichbegan as the military triedto root outthe Fatah Islam group from thecamp, killed about 50 fighters and an unknown number of civilians over two days.

But late Monday, a spokesman for the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said the militants had agreedto move away from theLebanese troops. A Lebanese officer said themilitarywill not shoot unless it wasfired at.

The quiet followed a day of intense attacks as the army bombarded the Nahr el-Bared camp on the outskirts of Tripoli with artillery and tank gunfire for a second day. The camp, home to 30,000 Palestinians, sheltersFatah Islam, which issuspected of havingties to al-Qaeda.

Explosions rang out and plumes of smoke rose from the camp.

Civilians killed, wounded and hungry

Palestinian officials in the camp said at least nine civilians were killed Monday, and 40 wounded,but the numbers couldn't immediately be confirmed. Crews from the Lebanese Red Cross have been denied access to the camp.

"People are running out of food because they have been staying indoors for a couple of days as they waited this violence out," said CBC News correspondent Nahlah Ayed from Tripoli.

"We saw the Red Cross people waiting outside wearing their flak jackets and their helmets hoping to get a chance to walk inside but they had to leave in disappointment."

A spokesperson with the International Committee of the Red Cross said the Palestinian Red Crescent has removed 24 injured people from the camp since Sunday. Virginia de la Guardia said they were able to get some water and medical supplies inside Nahr el-Bared on Monday.

On Monday, troops also surrounded a second refugee camp, Ein el-Hilweh in southern Lebanon.

Thearmy is under orders to root out Fatah Islam, a group that may have as few as 150 members but may belinked to al-Qaeda. It hasflourished in the poor, crime-ridden Palestinian camps that house roughly500,000 people in Lebanon.

Troops are not allowed to enter the camps because of an agreement between Lebanon's government and Palestinian officials.

The violence started Sundaywhen police seeking bank robbers raided a suspected hideout in Tripoli, sparkinga gunfight between Fatah Islam fighters and police. Troops were called in to help as the fighting spread.

More militants then burst out of the nearby refugee camp, seizing Lebanese army positions, capturing two armoured vehicles and ambushing troops. Lebanese troops later laid siege to the camp.

Bush defends army

Lebanese soldiers take position in front of a burned house at the entrance of Nahr el-Bared. ((Hussein Malla/Associated Press))
U.S. President George W. Bush backed the Lebanese army on Monday. Extremists trying to topple Lebanon's government "need to be reined in," he told the Reuters news agency.

"This is a group that has been involved in violence to achieve whatever their stated objective may be," U.S. government spokesman Sean McCormack said.

The leader of Fatah Islam, Palestinian Shaker al-Absi, has publicly said he wants to spread al-Qaeda's ideology and has been training fighters inside the camp for attacks on other countries.

Lebanese security officials said Fatah Islam members come from Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and Syria. As well, local sympathizers who belong to the conservative Salafi branch of Islam are joining.

The Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. TV station reported the dead militants included men from Bangladesh, Yemen and other Arab countries. Some wore explosive belts, security officials said.

Late Monday, a bomb exploded in a mainly Sunni Muslim district of Beirut, injuring four people.It was not known who set it or whether the explosion was related to the fighting at the camp.

Canadians warned to avoid area

Foreign Affairs said Canadians should keep out of parts of Lebanon, and "Canadians already in Tripoli should consider leaving," the department said on its website.

"The situation is highly dangerous and unpredictable, and could deteriorate further without warning."

With files from the Associated Press