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Fighting between militants, Lebanese army leaves 42 dead

world Updated: May 22, 2007 05:33 IST

IANS
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More than 40 people have been killed in northern Lebanon in fierce fighting between the Lebanese army and Al Qaeda-linked militants who ambushed soldiers near a Palestinian refugee camp.

The battles had quietened by Sunday evening but tensions remained high. The streets of Tripoli were left deserted - the site of earlier gun battles that killed 23 army soldiers and some 19 Al Qaeda fighters, according to the casualty reports on Monday.

Lebanese troops launched an assault on a building in Tripoli where militants from Fatah al-Islam were holed up, after a morning of deadly shootouts at the outskirts of the Palestinian refugee camp of Naher al-Bard.

"We are now in control of the situation in Tripoli," said the head of Lebanese security forces, General Asraf Rifi.

The bodies of seven soldiers, including a high-ranking officer, were discovered after darkness fell at an army post that had been occupied by the militants during the day on Sunday, an army source said.

Lebanese police said the first attacks occurred while police officers were trying to arrest suspects linked to a bank robbery, who were also believed to be members of Fatah al-Islam.

Among the militants killed were two high-ranking leaders of the group. A Lebanese high-ranking security source identified the two Fatah al-Islam leaders as Abu Yazen and his aide Saddam al Haj Dib.

Yazen and Dib are believed to be the masterminds of a bus bombing in a Christian area near Beirut in February that killed three people and wounded 20 others.

The International Committee of the Red Cross appealed for a truce to allow any wounded from the artillery exchanges between the army and the militants to be evacuated from the camp, home to some 30,000 refugees.

According to red cross sources, some 30 Lebanese soldiers, 16 police, seven civilians and 40 refugees from inside the Naher al-Bard camp were wounded in the fighting.