The 72 days of fighting at Nahr al-Bared in north Lebanon, has so far killed at least 253 people and devastated the camp, once home to 40,000 refugees.

Training

The 72 days of fighting has left the refuge
camp in ruins [AFP]
One soldier was shot dead by a sniper on Wednesday and two more died in fresh fighting, taking the military's death toll to 127 since the internal conflict erupted on May 20.

It has not been an easy battle for soldiers who lack proper training and equipment, Khodr said, speaking from the outskirts of the camp.

She said: "It's the first time the army [has] engaged in battles since it reunited at the end of the civil war in 1990."

More than 85 Fatah al-Islam fighters and at least 41 civilians have also been killed, while 65 others have been detained and charged with terrorism - a charge carrying the death penalty.

Political and security sources said last week that the Lebanese army was in the final phase of its campaign to defeat Fatah al-Islam and exert its control over the camp.

"[My husband] was among the first soldiers to fight in Nahr al-Bared and he kept telling us that he wanted to stay until the end ... he kept telling us that he won't die"

Patricia Semaan, wife of an army soldier killed in the fighting
Fatah al-Islam, which split from a Syrian-backed Palestinian faction last year, has Lebanese, Palestinians and other Arabs in its ranks, including some who have fought in Iraq.

Its numbers are not known and the group says it supports al-Qaeda's ideas, but has no direct links with it.

But even though the army has yet to defeat the armed group at Nahr al-Bared, Khodr said it has won the respect and support of the Lebanese public - the only institution in the country that enjoys that.

Patricia Semaan, wife of an army soldier killed in the fighting, said: "[My husband] was among the first soldiers to fight in Nahr al-Bared and he kept telling us that he wanted to stay until the end ... he kept telling us that he won't die."

Stability

The conflict has further undermined stability in Lebanon, already crippled by a prolonged political crisis and shaken by bombings that have killed six UN peacekeepers and two anti-Syrian legislators in the past nine months.

The army has remained neutral in the political crisis between the government and the opposition which at times has turned violent.

However, General Michel Suleiman, the army commander, has warned he will resign if there is no reconciliation and two rival governments emerge after a failure to appoint a new president in November.

Khodr said: "It's still not clear if the army's sacrifices would have been in vain or whether it can continue to be the force that holds this country together."