Lebanon has asked the United States for $280 million in military assistance to help put down an uprising by al-Qaeda-inspired militants operating from a Palestinian refugee camp, the State Department said Tuesday.
For the past three days, the Lebanese army, on orders from the Lebanese government, has been fighting the Fatah Islam group, who are holed up in the Nahr el-Bader Palestinian refugee camp, located near the northern Lebanon city of Tripoli.
About $220 million would go to the Lebanese Armed Forces and another $60 million to security forces, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. He added that the United States is weighing the request but declined to specify the type of assistance requested.
If approved, the assistance would represent a significant increase compared with previous years. McCormack said $40 million in equipment and training was sent in 2006 and about $5 millionis earmarked for the current year.
Meanwhile, at the refugee camp itself, thousands of people were fleeing late Tuesday during a lull in the fighting. Reporters at Nahr el-Bared said the massive fleeing began at about 9 p.m. local time.
UN relief officials in another camp located a few kilometers to the south of Tripoli said they expected 10,000 Palestinian refugees from Nahr el-Bared to arrive through the night.
AP television footage from the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp earlier in the afternoon showed dozens of women clutching children and piling up in pickup trucks, as they attempted to leave their partially destroyed homes. Others were fleeing on foot, and ambulances could be seen evacuating the wounded.
Refugees were seen raising white towels from windows and even waving white plastic bags. Many of the packed cars driving out had their windows blasted from the fighting.