By Rym Ghazal

BEIRUT: A Lebanese soldier died in hospital on Friday, two days after being wounded in clashes between the army and pro-Syrian Palestinian gunmen near the Syrian border.

In the latest development since the violence, officials confirmed that trucks carrying arms and members of the Fatah al-Intifada had in fact entered Lebanon from Syria, after initially denying such reports.

Corporal Mustafa Medlej, 21, died in hospital in the southeastern village of Jeb Janine after sustaining two head wounds during clashes on Wednesday between Lebanese troops and Fatah al-Intifada militants in the mountainous area of Halwa-Yanta, located about three kilometers from the Syrian border, according to an army statement.

"There was a redeployment of men and arms in the posts held by Fatah al-Intifada on Wednesday and Thursday night," the statement said.

"Several of the Palestinian fighters involved in the shooting of Lebanese soldiers have been identified and they will be arrested immediately and prosecuted by the Lebanese judiciary," he added.

Security sources told The Daily Star that the army had asked that three members of Fatah al-Intifada be handed over, not two as had been previously reported. The three are said to be responsible for starting the incident Wednesday.

Initial reports said Fatah al-Intifada had received late Wednesday from Syria some 50 new members and five trucks laden with arms and ammunition to reinforce their positions.

After a Cabinet meeting Thursday, Acting Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat and Premier Fouad Siniora denied the reports, although both had confirmed them before the session.

Siniora’s office released a statement Friday "confirming the crossing of three trucks, four Jeeps – one with a B10 Canon and one anti-aircraft gun – and 50 armed fighters from Fatah al-Intifada who joined the group’s post in Idris Fortress in Wadi el-Asswad."

When contacted by The Daily Star, Fatfat said: "The initial reports were based on media reports, and the more recent one is from the Defense Ministry, which I am sticking to." But Fatfat added that he "never confirmed anything," and said that he had been waiting for confirmation from the army, which "confirmed that the group was re-equipped with new members and arms."

"By stating they were re-equipped, it implies that the arms probably came through the trucks," Fatfat added.

Sources at the Defense Ministry also confirmed that "arms and members came across the border," but added that "there is no need to panic as everything is under control with tighter security measures in the area to prevent any new clashes."

"Numbers of the members of Fatah al-Intifada that entered could be more or less than the reported 50. It is difficult to say, as there seems to be ongoing movement along the borders of this particular group," said a Daily Star source.

Security sources said the pro-Syrian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command in Naameh had "expanded its mine field around its bases and increased its night patrols."

Meanwhile, officials from Fatah al-Intifada denied any connection with the clashes, and called media reports of the incident "misleading."

"We did not transport any new arms to Lebanon, but reports are being circulated to cause further pressure on the Palestinian groups under the umbrella of UN Security Council Resolution 1559," Abu Fadi Hammad, the secretary of Fatah al-Intifada in Lebanon said.

"We highly respect the Lebanese Army and we would not deliberately enter into clashes with them. Any information stating that we did is aimed at causing disruption," Hammad added.

The clashes occurred shortly before the Security Council approved Resolution 1680, which reinforced calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and the disarmament of all militias. – With agencies