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Middle East
Lebanon camp siege toll put at 400
Defence minister says Lebanese army should be strengthened as a priority.
Last Modified: 04 Sep 2007 10:55 GMT
Elias Murr said Lebanon's army should be boosted in order to react quickly to any threats [EPA]
Nearly 400 people died in 15 weeks of fighting between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam fighters at a Palestinian refugee camp in the north of Lebanon, the country's defence minister has said.
 
The military killed more than 200 Fatah al-Islam fighters during the standoff at the Nahr al-Bared camp near Tripoli, Elias Murr said on Tuesday.
"The number of terrorists killed stands at 222 and there are 202 who were taken prisoner," Murr said, adding that an unknown number of Fatah al-Islam fighters had been buried inside the camp.
 
He said 163 Lebanese army soldiers had been killed during the siege, which ended on Sunday.
"The army has defeated Fatah al-Islam - it has defeated terrorism," he said.
 
"They took the army's patience for weakness, its wisdom as a sign of reluctance and its warnings as mere words."
 
Army's future
 
Murr told told Al Jazeera that the army should be strengthened as a "national priority" and an "international" obligation.
 
"After the victory of the Lebanese army, we might wonder: what kind of army do we need in Lebanon?" he said.
 
Lebanon's army is largely equipped with
Soviet-era weaponry and vehicles [AFP]
 
"Do we need an army that we seek only in times of crisis … or do we need a modern and strong army that will always be ready to defend Lebanon's unity and security?"
 
Lebanon's army, which is equipped with ageing Soviet-era weaponry, helicopters and tanks, has long been considered a weak national force in the region.
 
Murr's statement on the army's long-term future comes amid accusations that US military support for the Lebanese army throughout the camp siege was inadequate.
 
US military aid to Lebanon during the Nahr al-Bared crisis comprised of items such as night-vision goggles rather than heavy weaponry.
 
The package reflected Washington's concern that should sophisticated arms be given to the Lebanese army, they could be channelled to the armed wing of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia party and resistance movement.
 
Return home
 
As the army continued its clean-up operation at Nahr al-Bared camp on Tuesday, residents who fled the camp in the early days of the siege said they wished to return to their homes as soon as possible.
 
"We want to return to Nahr al-Bared to live – even in a tent amid the destruction, rubble, bombs and booby-traps," Intisar Younis, a mother of eight, said at the Beddawi camp, where most of Nahr al-Bared's residents are sheltering.
 
The army says it will not allow any civilians to return to the camp until all unexploded ordnance and booby-traps have been defused and removed.
 
"The return to Nahr al-Bared is tantamount to an infant's return to his mother's arms," she said.
 
"We want to embrace the camp despite the destruction."
 
Lebanon's government has pledged to rebuild the camp, with Fouad Siniora, Lebanon's prime minister, saying that it now falls under state authority.
Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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