Lebanese army fights Fatah al Islam

Lebanese army has been fighting an Islamic militant group and I have been somewhat surprised by how they have been performing. I had always thought that the Lebanese army main function in life was to avoid conflict. They avoid conflict with the Israelies. They avoid conflict with the Syrians. They avoid conflict with Hezbollah. But apparently, they are not averse to shooting Palestinians. This makes a certain amount of sense. None of the warring parties in Lebanon like the Palestinians. Even Hezbollah does not really care.

Snark aside, Fatah al Islam started the fight and it seem like the Lebanese army is going to finish it. I think that this was a bit of a surprise to Fatah al Islam. I don’t really think they expected to have this big of a fight on their hands. All they wanted was some money. This from the LA Times…

A bank heist Saturday led to the raid that started the fighting.

Four men believed to be members of the militant group robbed a bank near Tripoli, threatening tellers with guns and a homemade bomb before speeding off with $125,000 and a bag of blank checks in their black Mercedes, security officials said.

The next day, Lebanese security forces trying to arrest the suspected robbers were met with a barrage of bullets and grenades from an apartment in an affluent Tripoli neighborhood where the suspects had barricaded themselves. Soldiers later killed 10 men inside the apartment. Several were wearing explosives belts, officials said.

Two of the men were identified by the officials as Abu Yassen and Saddam Hajj Did, believed to be key leaders of Fatah al Islam. Other members of the group, meanwhile, overran a Lebanese checkpoint, and fighting spread to the camp.

I think the Lebanese response has been fiercer than Fatah al Islam bargained for. That is why I imagine they have just announced a unilateral cease fire. It is sort of like a request to the Lebanese army not to hurt them any more.

Not that it has been easy for the poor Lebanese army.

This from the Washington Post….

Fatah al-Islam gunmen fired at troops throughout the day. At times, gunmen and soldiers, separated by only a few dozen feet, faced off across a road bordering the camp. Families from surrounding towns fled along the same road, dodging gunfire.

Lebanese soldiers in armored vehicles lined up along the road served as warriors and traffic cops. When gunshots sounded from fighters hiding in the brush along the other side, military gunners held up a hand to hold back fleeing residents long enough for the soldiers to squeeze off several high-caliber rounds, then waved the civilian vehicles on.

At midday, Lebanese soldiers careened down the road in civilian cars, shouting warnings that militant fighters had broken out of the camp. “Go inside! Protect yourself!” soldiers shouted.

“Fatah al-Islam is coming!” small boys screamed as they ran along the road. Ambulances and U.N. vehicles with horns honking sped past them, retreating among scores of civilian vehicles.

At Borj Arab, a small town about 1 1/2 miles from the camp, 7-year-old Mohammed al-Mouri leapt for the handle on the metal shutter of his family’s sweets shop, struggling to pull the shutter down with his weight as women up and down the street hustled children inside and men took to rooftops with family guns.

“Do you hear the shooting? They are coming!” his 20-year-old sister, Tamam al-Mouri, said inside. “Everyone is afraid. There are children, and they will shoot them.”

The New York Times makes it sound like the Lebanese Army has been getting the worst of it casualty wise even if the militants are starting to cry uncle.

Government officials said at least 60 people had been killed — 30 soldiers, 15 militants and 15 civilians — in the fighting that began when a police raid on bank robbers early Sunday escalated into one of Lebanon’s most significant security crises since the end of the civil war in 1990.

The militant group, Fatah al Islam, which is thought to have links to Al Qaeda, fired antiaircraft guns and mortars and had night vision goggles and other sophisticated equipment. The Lebanese Army does not have such gear.

Here is a Belmont post with interesting links on the subject.

And here is a clip of the fighting.

This from The Times explains the civilians with guns amongst the soldiers…

Lebanese troops are using a small mosque as a front-line position. It overlooked the beginning of the camp, a row of shell-pocked and smoke-blackened three or four-storey apartment buildings, 200 yards away beyond a dense orchard of orange trees. Among the soldiers were several local civilians, dressed in jeans and T-shirts and wearing green canvas ammunition pouches. Most of them were veteran militiamen from Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war who had volunteered to help the army to fight the Islamist militants in the camp.

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