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Ketegangan berterusan di Nahr al-Bared

Standoff continues in Lebanon

May 26 - A tense standoff between the Lebanese military and Fatah al-Islam at a Palestinian refugee camp has continued into its fourth day, as the US flew further aid to the Lebanese army.

Civilians continued fleeing from the Nahr al- Bared camp on Saturday as the army's siege of the area continued amid sporadic exchanges of gunfire.

The UN has called for the protection of thousands of civilians trapped by the Lebanese army's siege of the camp.

The aid arrived on Saturday, airport officials said, a day after Hezbollah's leader warned the country risked fighting a war "on behalf of the Americans".

In a televised speech on Friday, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Shia opposition group Hezbollah, criticised US military involvement, saying that Lebanon risked getting dragged into America's war against al-Qaeda.

"The problem in the north can be solved politically and through the judiciary," he said.

The Lebanese army has besieged Fatah al-Islam, an al-Qaeda linked group made up of fighters from across the region, since Saturday.

Nasrallah said the situation could still be solved "in a way that protects the Lebanese army, our Palestinian brothers, the state and peace and stability without transforming Lebanon into a battleground".

He said accepting US help would draw more fighters into the country and potentially destabilise it.

"Political negotiations"

The US-supplied aid is a sensitive issue in Lebanon, where opposition leaders accuses the government of working to Washington's agenda.

Palestinian factions have been seeking a negotiated solution to end the siege and avert a battle between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam as thousands of civilians who remain in the Nahr al-Bared camp will be in the line of fire.

Osama Hamdan, Hamas' representative in Lebanon, said that "as long as we agree on the necessity of a solution and we speak with a language of solution then there is optimism".

Elias Murr, the Lebanese defence minister, said on Friday he was "leaving room for political negotiations", which he said must lead to the surrender of the fighters from Fatah al-Islam.

"If the political negotiations fail, I leave it to the military command to do what is necessary," he told reporters.

Civilians flee camp

On Saturday, more civilians, mostly women and children, were reported to have fled from the refugee camp as the army's siege of the area continued amid sporadic exchanges of gunfire.

Meanwhile, the UN has called for the protection of thousands of civilians trapped by the Lebanese army's siege of the camp.

"An estimated 10,000 civilians remain in the embattled camp with only sporadic humanitarian support during very brief ceasefire periods," the Unicef, UN children's agency, said.

"Children living in Nahr al-Bared have been through unspeakable trauma," it added.

"Already living in a refugee situation, they have witnessed their homes being destroyed, loved ones being killed or injured, and were trapped in their homes hearing the terrifying sounds of gunfire around them."

Fighting between the Lebanese military and Fatah al-Islam has left scores dead, destroyed houses and triggered a flood of refugees from the camp, which had a population before the fighting of more than 31,000, according to UN figures.

About half of Nahr el-Bared's population of 31,000 fled the camp during the truce, flooding into the nearby Beddawi camp.

At least 20 civilians and 30 soldiers were killed in the fighting earlier this week.

The Lebanese military says 60 Fatah al-Islam fighters were killed, though the group put the toll at 10. Agencies

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