Militant Leader Flees as Siege Ends at Lebanese Camp

September 11, 2007 05:02 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Fifteen weeks' fighting that threatened to escalate into civil war concludes with the escape of Shaker al-Absi, the head of Fatah al-Islam and a man wanted for the murder of U.S. Ambassador Lawrence Foley.

30-Second Summary

On September 2, the Lebanese army finally overcame besieged members of Fatah al-Islam, a Palestinian liberation organization sympathetic to the goals of al-Qaeda.

The militants had been holed up in the Nahr el-Bared camp since fighting began there in May. Sporadic gun battles over the following weeks claimed the lives of 164 Lebanese army personnel and 222 militants.

Soon after the fighting ended, the army claimed to have recovered the remains of Fatah al-Islam’s leader, Shaker al-Absi. His wife and other relatives subsequently confirmed that report.

However, on September 10, the Lebanese prosecutor general announced that DNA tests had shown the body was not al-Absi’s. Investigators now believe that the militant leader escaped the camp on September 1.

Al-Absi has been sentenced to death in absentia for the assassination of U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Lawrence Foley in 2002.

The el-Bared siege has been the latest obstacle on the road to the full recovery Lebanon has sought since the end of a 15-year civil war in 1990. It follows on the heels of the severe setbacks of summer 2006, when Israel responded to Hezbollah rocket attacks from the country’s south with air strikes on Lebanese infrastructure.

Headline: Al-Absi flees, Lebanon requests aid

Background: Fighting starts at el-Bared

Reactions: The United Nations

Opinions: Is Syria behind Islam al-Fatah?

Seymour Hersh

Key Players: Siniora, al-Absi, and Fatah al-Islam

Reference Material: Overviews of Lebanon and its refugee camps

History: Palestinian refugees, civil war, and the Arab-Israeli conflict

The creation of Israel and the Palestinians

Israel was founded after World War II under the auspices of the United Nations. The Arab states of the Middle East refused to endorse the UN plan for the creation of a Jewish homeland on territory that was part of what was then known as Palestine.

When in 1948 the British mandate to govern Palestine ended, Israel declared independence, and five Arab armies attacked the fledging state. Over 15 months of fighting, Israel repelled the attackers and, in doing so, took more land than was originally apportioned it by the United Nations. Non-Jewish residents fled from both within the original borders of Israel and from the land that had been annexed, becoming the first of the Palestinian refugees.
The PLO, Jordan, and the destabilizing effect of the refugee population

After the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and its neighbors, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) set up base in Jordan. The number of Palestinian refugees in Jordan rose, and the government felt threatened by the PLO and feared that its presence might prompt Israel to attack.The PLO was expelled from Jordan in 1971 and moved to Lebanon, where its presence was a catalyst for the civil war in 1975.
The Lebanese Civil War and its aftermath, 1975–1989

The Lebanese Civil War began on the morning of April 13, 1975 with a drive-by shooting that killed four of the congregation at a church in east Beirut. Initially the fighting was between Christian, Muslim, and Palestinian groups, but the conflict grew as Israel and Syria became involved.

The war claimed the lives of 150,000 people, and crippled the Lebanese economy. Beirut, once the "Paris of the Middle East" and a vibrant tourist destination, was left in ruins.

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