13 July 2007

Islamists fire Katyushas in Lebanon camp

NAHR AL-BARED, Lebanon (Reuters) - Islamist militants fired Katyusha rockets at Lebanese villages on Friday in a further escalation of their 8-week-old battle with the army at a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon.
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Security sources said al Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam fighters fired about a dozen of the 107 mm rockets on several areas around Nahr al-Bared camp in north Lebanon, causing some material damage but no casualties.

Fighting between the army and Islamist militants has killed 214 people since May 20, making it the country's worst internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war.

A soldier wounded in ferocious fighting on Thursday died of his wounds, bringing the military's death toll for that day to seven.

The military, concerned about being sucked into a war of attrition, has stepped up pressure on the coastal camp to force the militants to surrender.

But the well-trained and well-armed militants, some of whom fought in Iraq or trained to go to fight there, have so far rejected all calls to lay down their arms.

Witnesses said the army was bombarding the largely destroyed camp with artillery and tanks. Militants were responding with sniper and rocket fire. At least three soldiers were wounded.

Black and grey smoke billowed from the camp's battered buildings, most of which have been reduced to rubble.

Thursday's fighting was the most ferocious since the Lebanese defense minister declared on June 21 that all major combat operations had ceased at Nahr al-Bared.

A 1969 Arab agreement banned Lebanese security forces from entering Palestinian camps. The agreement was annulled by the Lebanese parliament in the mid-1980s but the accord effectively stayed in place.

The violence has further undermined stability in Lebanon, where a paralyzing 8-month political crisis has been compounded by bombings in and around Beirut. The country has yet to recover from last year's war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.(Yahoo)

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.