NAHR AL-BARED, Lebanon (AFP) – Lebanese troops prepared on Sunday to launch a final assault on Islamists holed up for months in Nahr al-Bared camp from where the last women and children have now been evacuated. As Palestinian Ulemas, or clerics, sought a way out for wounded fighters in last-minute negotiations, an army spokesman  forecast: "The strikes against the militants will become more intense."

The wives and children of the remaining Fatah al-Islam militants were evacuated on Friday and there had since been some "close quarter combat," the army spokesman said, forecasting an unhindered all-out attack."Before we were more cautious because of the presence of women and children. That will no longer be the case," he said.Sunday also saw heightened sniper fire directed at the soldiers, an AFP correspondent on the scene reported.One of the clerics, requesting anonymity, said the Rally of Palestinian Ulemas had been contacted by the militants’ spokesman, Abu Salim Taha, to negotiate the evacuation of the wounded "who number eight or nine."

"We are on the point of reaching an agreement," the cleric said. "It’s a matter of finalising the last details on time and method of evacuation."It was Taha who, after several unsuccessful efforts at mediation between the Islamists and the army, contacted the clerics over securing safe passage out of the camp for the Islamists’ wives and children — a total of 63 people.

An army spokesman said that information from those evacuated could help the army in its final showdown with the militants who have been in a standoff with the troops since May 20.

Two more Lebanese soldiers were killed in fighting on Saturday, taking the army’s death toll in the three-month confrontation to 148.

Nahr al-Bared was home to 31,000 Palestinian refugees when fighting broke out with the Islamists, who claim ideological ties to Al-Qaeda. Most residents of the camp fled shortly after fighting began.