Nahr Al Bared, Lebanon: Two Lebanese soldiers were killed on Wednesday in pitched battles against Al Qaida-inspired militants at a Palestinian refugee camp, taking the death toll from nearly 12 weeks of fighting to 263.
Security sources said the soldiers were killed in overnight and early morning clashes at Nahr Al Bared camp in north Lebanon during which artillery, grenades and machine guns were used.
The military control a large part of the camp and its vicinity, home to 40,000 refugees before the fighting, but Fatah Al Islam militants have been putting up fierce resistance. The army has now lost 136 soldiers since the battle erupted on May 20. In total at least 273 people have been killed in Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The Lebanese authorities said this week that a senior Fatah Al Islam military commander, Shihab Qaddora, aka Abu Hureira, was killed late last month in a firefight with security forces in the nearby city of Tripoli.
There was no confirmation of when or how Qaddora, 35, a well-known Lebanese militant who had spent more than six years in a Syrian prison, managed to sneak out of the camp but he was at one stage leading the battles at Nahr Al Bared.
Some local media reported he had fled the beseiged camp by swimming for five hours. They said Qaddora was contacting sleeping Fatah Al Islam cells in Tripoli to prepare for attacks against the security sources.
Fatah Al Islam, which split from a Syrian-backed Palestinian faction last year, has Lebanese, Palestinians and other Arabs in its ranks, including some who have fought in Iraq. It says it supports Al Qaida's ideas, but has no direct links with it.
The conflict has further undermined stability in Lebanon, already crippled by a prolonged political crisis and shaken by bombings that have killed six UN peacekeepers and two anti-Syrian lawmakers in the past eight months.
The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Al Hariri in 2005 marked an end to the relative stability Lebanon had experienced since it emerged from the civil war.