Militants will fight to death

Fighters in refugee camp will not give in, spokesman says

May 26, 2007|By McClatchy Tribune

NAHR EL-BARED, Lebanon -- An Islamist militant group holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon will fight to the death, a spokesman said yesterday, adding that newly arrived military aid from the United States and other countries to the Lebanese army don't faze the fighters.

Abu Salim, the spokesman for Fatah al-Islam, told McClatchy Newspapers in a phone interview that surrender was not an option and that fighters were ready for the next stage of battle with the Lebanese troops surrounding them in the olive groves, citrus orchards and a commercial strip just outside the Nahr el-Bared camp.

"The ball is now in the army's court, and we are ready for confrontation," said Abu Salim, who goes by a nom de guerre. "We didn't come here to surrender, we came here for a goal. ... If we are killed, then it is for God. This life is finite and our guys are prepared to fight, even if the whole world's forces come."

Many terrified and angry Palestinians fleeing the Nahr el-Bared camp during the past week's deadly clashes say they feel betrayed by the militants, who had lived mostly in peace since the group formed last fall after severing ties with another, relatively moderate Palestinian faction in the camp.

Many refugees said they were duped by the generosity, humility and piety Fatah al-Islam displayed to their hosts.

Abu Salim, however, said Fatah al-Islam never pretended to be anything other than what it is: a jihadist organization with the main goal of protecting Sunni Muslim interests and reclaiming Jerusalem for Palestinians.

By his account, several families in the camp have taken up arms alongside Fatah al-Islam and have offered their homes as hideouts. The group refused, he said, for fear of putting civilians in the line of fire.

"You only heard one side. The people who stayed here at the camp pray for us and join us," Abu Salim said. "Besides, we never promised the camp comfort. They knew from the beginning why we came. This is God's way, that his subjects suffer on this earth. We communicated this picture to the camp's residents.

"Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and his followers remained in the desert without food or water for three years until God was sure of their faith," he added.

Interviews with several factional leaders and fleeing Nahr el-Bared residents at the nearby Baddawi camp, where thousands have sought refuge, paint a starkly different picture of the shadowy group believed to have links to al-Qaida. They say radical Islamists from as far away as Pakistan and Somalia set up shop at Nahr el-Bared in the past year.

The newcomers eased residents' initial wariness by keeping a low profile, never pushing their ideology upon others and donating goods and services.

"We saw them as good people. They fasted, they prayed, they lived for God," said Hassan Suleiman, a cardiologist and Red Crescent worker who said he had treated Lebanese, Algerian, Syrian and other foreign fighters at the camp.

"It was like a cocktail, a mixed international group. As a doctor, I have to operate with blind eyes. I have to treat everyone equally, but on the streets, I never greeted them; I never even said hello."

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