About 22 women and 41 children left the refugee camp, more than three months after the Lebanese army first laid siege to it.

 

Al-Hajj said some of the women and children went to two other Palestinian refugee camps -  Badawi, which is close to the main northern city of Tripoli, and Ain al-Hilwa in south Lebanon.

 

Possible test

 

About 25 or 30 of them who are Syrian or Syrian-Palestinian were meanwhile headed to Syria, he said. Among them were the wife and children of Shaker al-Abssi, leader of Fatah al-Islam.

 

Zeina Khodr, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Lebanon, said: "Some sources are telling us it [the evacuation] could be a test. Fatah al-Islam would like to see how the Lebanese army deals with the families to see whether there could be a possibility for surrender."

 

Up to 70 Fatah al-Islam fighters are thought
to still be in Nahr al-Bared [AFP]

The families were reported to have been the last civilians remaining in the Nahr al-Bared camp, and their leaving could open the way for a final assault by the army on the remaining Fatah al-Islam fighters.
 
Early on Saturday, military helicopters carried out three raids on the camp, which has mostly been reduced to rubble since the standoff between the army and the armed group began on May 20.

 

The remaining fighters, thought to number about 70, have been besieged for the past two months in a small area in the south of the camp, hiding in well equipped underground shelters, according to the army.

 

The advance of troops has been hampered by the camp's winding streets and booby traps and mines planted by Fatah al-Islam.

 

At least 200 people, including 142 soldiers, have been killed in the fighting, Lebanon's deadliest internal unrest since the 1975-1990 civil war.

 

The vast majority of Nahr al-Bared's 31,000 residents fled at the start of the fighting, with just fighters' wives and children remaining.

 
Fatah al-Islam's fighters have refused demands to surrender and vowed to fight to the death.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies