Lebanon is increasingly becoming the Western front of the Iraq war.
NAHR AL-BARED, Lebanon (Reuters) - Five Lebanese soldiers were killed on Saturday in the latest bout of heavy fighting against al Qaeda-inspired militants entrenched in a Palestinian refugee camp, a military source said.
At least 125 people, including 53 soldiers and 42 militants, have been killed since the fighting began on May 20 -- almost three weeks ago -- making it Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Security sources said several soldiers were wounded in Saturday's fighting in which machinegun fire reverberated and heavy artillery shelling rocked the north Lebanon camp from early morning.
The military source said another soldier had died from wounds sustained earlier.
In the eastern Bekaa Valley, Lebanese security forces arrested three suspected al Qaeda members, including a Belgian, security sources said.
One suspect, a Lebanese man, was arrested in the village of Bar Elias where earlier this week, security forces dismantled what they say is as an al Qaeda cell preparing for car bomb attacks in Lebanon and seized weapons and explosives.
At least nine people have now been arrested in connection with the cell, the sources said.
An interesting analysis (by Lebanese news Website Ya Libnan) of the Lebanese Army's casualties in its recent battles with Fatah al-Islam shows that the Lebanese Army has lost more soldiers in 4 weeks on a per capita basis than the U.S. has lost in 4 years in Iraq.
Lebanon so far has lost 47 of its soldiers in less than 3 weeks of fighting against terrorists of Fatah al Islam, an Al-Qaeda inspired group which is backed by Syria.
47 may sound a small number of casualties for some countries, but on a per capita basis 47 is greater than all the US losses for the past 4 years in Iraq. This may sound ridiculous, but let me explain why it is true.
The population of USA is 300 million, which is 75 times the population of Lebanon (4 million).
The number of US casualties stands at 3,500 as of yesterday.
The number of Lebanese casualties stands at 47 as of yesterday.
Now in order to scale the Lebanese Army casualties to America's population, multiply the total number of Lebanese casualties (47) by the population factor (75) and the result is 3,525.
The battle in whicn the Lebanese Army is currently engaged is really a Western front in the Iraqi War.
The fighting erupted 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. At least 115 people, including 47 soldiers and 38 militants, have been killed.
The Lebanese authorities have demanded the unconditional surrender of the gunmen, who have vowed to fight till death.
Fatah al-Islam was officially formed late last year. Its leader, veteran Palestinian guerrilla Shaker al-Absi, says he shares the same ideology as al Qaeda but has no organizational links with that group.
Many of his men are foreign Arab fighters, some of whom have fought in Iraq.
What's going on is that Syria is using Iraq as a training ground for fighters that it can then send into Lebanon to keep the Lebanese on the defensive in an effort to distract the Lebanese government from pressing for the Hariri assassination tribunal and from shutting down arms smuggling from Syria to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.
The violence has come with Lebanon already in the grips of a nearly seven-month-old deadlock between pro- and anti-Syrian factions that has paralyzed all government legislation.
The pro-Syrian speaker of parliament Nabih Berri has refused to convene MPs to debate draft legislation proposed by Siniora's government since six pro-Damascus ministers quit last November.
Lebanon's parliament -backed prime minister, a staunch opponent of Syria, accused intelligence agents of the country's former powerbroker of being connected to the internal unrest … by far the deadliest since the 1975-90 civil war.
"Undoubtedly ... there is a link between them and some of the Syrian intelligence services," Siniora told reporters
He said foreign fighters among the militants had entered Lebanon from Syria and appealed to the Damascus authorities to exercise greater control over the border.
"They passed through Syria, and the responsibility is joint. I do not deny Lebanon's responsibility, but nobody can deny Syria's responsibility either," he said.
"We call on the Syrians to take up the responsibility of controlling the border and prevent the infiltration of individuals and arms smuggling into Lebanon."
The United States should be grateful to Lebanon insofar as Syria's meddling is causing it to pull fighters out of the Iraq theater of operations and put them into Lebanon. The more Syria insists on fighting a proxy war in Lebanon, the more its illegal activities are exposed, and the more likely that the international community will finally act.
Lebanon has already interrogated 35 Fatah al Islam detainees, since this group declared war on the army 19 days ago at the Nahr el Bared Palestinian refugee camp .
The interrogations clearly revealed that Fatah al Islam has plotted attacks against the enlarged UN peacekeeping force deployed after last summer's devastating conflict between Israel and Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
As a result of the above information UNIFIL peacekeeping forces were put on high alert in south Lebanon .
Concerns were heightened on Thursday after a time bomb was discovered and defused on a road leading to beaches in the southern port of Tyre which are popular with off-duty UN troops.
UNIFIL spokesman Milos Strugar said he was aware of threats from Fatah al-Islam.
"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," he said.
UNIFIL has heightened security measures since the fighting broke out, beefing up fortifications and keeping a tight rein on the off-duty movements of its peacekeepers.
The Ya Libnan editorialist who compared his national army's death toll to the Americans' has a recommendation for UNIFIL:
It is time for the UNIFIL forces to station themselves along our borders with Syria to monitor border crossings and prevent arms smuggling. Predictably Syria will be furious and shut down its border, a move that will ultimately hurt the Syrian regime more than the Lebanese government. Syria after all does not recognize Lebanon, so perhaps UNIFIL presence will pressure Syria to agree to border demarcation, which will finally articulate the legal borders to enable proper monitoring by the Lebanese Internal Security Forces.