Lebanon's defense minister said Thursday that the 33-day war against an al Qaeda-inspired group held up in a north Lebanon refugee camp was over.
The fighting between the army and militants in the Nahr al-Bared camp was the worst outbreak of violence in Lebanon since the end its civil war 17 years ago and cost the lives of at least 166 people.
"The military operation is over…the Lebanese army has crushed those terrorists," Defense Minister Elias Murr said in a television interview late Thursday.
Cleaning up"What is happening now is some cleanup and dismantling some mines… the Lebanese army has destroyed all Fatah Islam positions and is combing the area," he said.
The surviving members of Fatah al-Islam, said Murr, had pulled back from the edges of Nahr al-Bared into civilian areas deep in the camp.
Murr said the army would maintain a siege around the camp until all the militants, including their leader Shaker al-Abssi, surrender
In an interview published earlier Thursday in An-Nahar newspaper, Murr vowed to defeat the militants and cautioned the country's politicians against concluding the Fatah Islam militants have links with Syria, saying it was too early to tell.
Some cabinet ministers in the Western-backed government and members of the anti-Syrian coalition have claimed Fatah Islam was created by Syrian intelligence to destabilize Lebanon. Both Syria and Fatah Islam have denied the accusation.
Neighbouring Syria closed one of its border crossings into northern Lebanon Wednesday citing security concerns since the start of the Nahr al-Bared fighting.