Lebanese troops clash with Palestinian demonstrators
Two people were killed and 29 wounded Friday when government soldiers shot at Palestinian demonstrators trying to march home to their besieged refugee camp in northern Lebanon, officials and witnesses said.
Lebanese youths supported the troops by engaging in fistfights with Palestinian protesters, the state-run National News Agency said.
The confrontation was the first major trouble between Palestinians and Lebanese troops since fighting broke out last month at the Nahr el Bared camp between the army and Fatah al Islam, an extremist group with followers from several Arab nations.
The clash could complicate the army’s effort to flush out Fatah al Islam holdouts, although mainstream Palestinian leaders have so far backed the crackdown on the group, which has resulted in widespread destruction inside Nahr el Bared.
Virginia La Guardia, an official with the International Red Cross in Beirut, said two people died and 29 were hurt in the clash outside the Bedawi camp, three miles from Nahr el Bared.
After the army and Fatah al Islam began battling May 20, thousands of Palestinian refugees fled Nahr el Bared, and most went to Bedawi. With fighting dragging on at Nahr el Bared, the displaced are now demanding to be allowed to return.
On Friday, about 2,000 protesters massed at Bedawi, and some then tried to march toward Nahr el Bared, Palestinian officials in northern Lebanon said.
The officials said that when the marchers reached an army checkpoint near Bedawi, troops told them to go back. When the protesters continued, the soldiers opened fire, first into the air and then into the crowd, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give statements to journalists.
The army issued a statement saying the protesters carried sticks and sharp tools and blocked the main road with tires and other barriers.
A marcher said the protest had been peaceful before the troops began shooting.
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who is visiting Italy, spoke by phone with security officials and Palestine Liberation Organization representative Abbas Zaki, urging them to contain the incident.