Lebanese army hits Islamist militants hard

BEIRUT - Lebanon's defence minister said yesterday that the army had killed at least 222 Islamist militants in a 15-week battle at a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon.

The army took control of the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp on Sunday after more than three months of fierce battles, including air, sea and land bombardments against the entrenched Fatah al-Islam militants.

Defence Minister Elias al-Murr also said 202 militants were captured in the battles and that an unknown number were buried in mass graves inside the largely destroyed camp.

"This victory uprooted the biggest threat that faced the Lebanese people because Fatah al-Islam was spreading like cancer cells to target each part of the nation," Murr said.

At least 42 civilians and 163 soldiers died, bringing the death toll to more than 400 in Lebanon's worst internal violence since the civil war ended 17 years ago.

Though Fatah al-Islam has no organisational ties to Al Qaeda, it shares the ideology to Osama bin Laden's network.

- Reuters