June 9 – NAHR AL-BARED, Lebanon – Lebanese army tanks and artillery  again pounded Islamists holed up inside a refugee camp, as authorities claimed the militants also wanted to target UN peacekeepers.Lebanon’s National news agency said 16 militants were believed to have been killed Friday, in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, while the army reported no casualties.Meanwhile, the Daily Star newspaper said the army continued to take over buildings used by Fatah al-Islam snipers and tighten the grip on remnants of Fatah al-Islam fighters with heavy and persistent bombardment.The English daily quoted a senior army source as saying that the army was advancing ‘extremely slow’ and clearing rigged buildings and troops have not yet penetrated into the heart of the camp. Five Lebanese soldiers were killed on Saturday in heavy fighting against al Qaeda-inspired militants entrenched in a Palestinian refugee camp, a military source said.

In a statement issued Friday, the army said it is steadily taking control of militant positions in and around the camp with the aim of ‘ending this deviant phenomenon’ that has been imposed on Lebanon for the purpose of creating instability and insecurity in the country. Meanwhile, mediation efforts continued as a group of Sunni clerics and politicians, known as Islamic Action Front, met with Palestinian clerics Friday evening trying to mediate a peaceful end to the clashes. The Lebanese army have been fighting with Fatah al-Islam militants at the Nahr al-Bared camp since May 20. Militiamen from the Al-Qaeda inspired Sunni Muslim group replied with automatic gunfire and anti-tank rockets, as the Lebanese army renewed its warning that "the terrorists’ only choice is to give themselves up."During a lull earlier on Friday, relief workers of the Lebanese Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent evacuated about another 30 refugees from the camp in northern Lebanon, an AFP correspondent said. On Thursday, Fatah al-Islam spokesman Shahine Shahine threatened that the group "will widen the scope of the attacks beyond Nahr al-Bared" if the army continues its "destructive bombardment."

But Lebanese sources said the Islamic Action Front, which includes Sunni politicians and clerics, and a grouping of Palestinian clerics, would continue efforts to find a solution."We are trying in every way to convince them, even using Islamic intellectual arguments and sharia (Islamic law) that this is not the right way," the Front’s leader Fathi Yakan told Reuters. Yakan said a proposed first step was the surrender of the group’s Lebanese members.The militants, many of whom are foreign fighters from other Arab countries, have vowed to fight to the death and are refusing to surrender or give up their weapons."The army is attacking from afar and they don’t come close. We will keep fighting until this oppression is lifted, We will fight until the end, even for months, it’s not a problem," Abu Hurayra, a Fatah al-Islam commander, told Reuters from the camp.The fighting began on May 20 when the militants attacked army units deployed around Nahr al-Bared after one of their hideouts in a nearby city was stormed.Lebanon is already struggling with a 7-month-old political crisis, and there are fears that fighting could spread.Deadly clashes have erupted at Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp in the past week, and five bombs have rocked civilian areas in and near Beirut since May 20. Fatah al-Islam was officially formed late last year. Its leader, veteran Palestinian guerrilla Shaker al-Abssi, says he shares the same ideology as al Qaeda

A judicial source told AFP that "in the course of interrogations, some members of Fatah al-Islam confessed that one of the principal aims of their group was to militarily attack UNIFIL operating in south Lebanon."

The source said they had spoken of being "indoctrinated" against Christians, depicted as crusaders, as well as against Shiites and leading Sunni figures, such as MPs, ministers and senior officials, considered to be "infidels."

No one from the Islamist group was immediately available for comment.

UNIFIL spokesman Milos Strugar said he was aware of statements by Fatah al-Islam as well as other warnings from different Al-Qaeda leaders.

"We take these statements seriously, but we have full trust in the Lebanese authorities and armed forces, who are responsible for law and order in the country."

UNIFIL has heightened security measures since the fighting broke out, beefing up fortifications and keeping a tight rein on the off-duty movement of troops.

Concerns were heightened on Thursday after a timebomb was discovered and defused on a road leading to beaches in the southern port town of Tyre. Some of the beaches are popular with off-duty UN troops.

Lebanese authorities have demanded that Fatah al-Islam militants entrenched in Nahr al-Bared surrender, particularly those blamed for killing 27 soldiers on the first day of fighting.

But Shahine said most of the wanted men had been killed or wounded and that "very few of them are still taking part in the fight", the deadliest internal clashes since the end of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.

A total of 109 people have been killed in fighting since the start of the army campaign, including 48 soldiers.

Amid the tensions, a Lebanese man was killed and three Syrian workers were wounded in a car bombing Thursday night outside a factory in the Christian area of Zuk Mosbeh, 20 kilometres (13 miles) north of Beirut, police said.

More than eight bombings and grenade attacks have struck in and around the capital since May 20 when the clashes broke out.

Security fears have prompted many schools across Lebanon to announce an early end to the academic year. Some schools announced that Friday would be the last day, while others decided to end classes next week.

The violence comes as Lebanon continues to face a political crisis since last November when six pro-Syrian ministers quit the cabinet charging it was riding roughshod over power-sharing arrangements in force since the civil war.

But on Friday, factions from across the political divide welcomed a proposal from former colonial power France to host informal fence-mending talks at the end of June.