July 13, 2007 / 2:34 AM / 12 years ago

Lebanon army battles militants at Palestinian camp

TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) - Lebanese troops battled militants linked to al Qaeda at a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon on Sunday, security sources and witnesses said.

The sources said there were casualties on both sides in the fighting that started before dawn at the entrance of Nahr al-Bared camp near the northern port city of Tripoli. Lebanese television station LBC said three militants were killed.

Witnesses said the rattle of assault rifles and machine guns could be heard, and thuds from explosions rocked the area.

A military source said the clashes began after an army post on the outskirts of the camp came under fire from Fatah al-Islam militants.

Security forces also clashed with gunmen in Tripoli itself while trying to arrest suspects in a bank robbery, security sources said. Four members of the security forces were wounded.

The Lebanese army cannot enter Palestinian refugee camps in line with a 38-year-old agreement but it had tightened its grip around the camp since authorities charged members of the group with carrying out a twin bus bombings in a Christian area near Beirut that killed three civilians in February.

Fatah al-Islam was formed last year by fighters who broke off from the pro-Syrian Fatah Uprising group.

Lebanese officials say the group is merely a front for Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, something both the group and Syria deny. Fatah al-Islam statements have appeared on Islamist Web sites known to publish al Qaeda statements.

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