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Palestinian mediators bring hope of ceasefire to Lebanon

Fatah al-Islam and Lebanese enter negotiations as Palestinian refugees prepare to return.

By / June 20, 2007

The end may be in sight for "Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war."

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Reuters reports that Palestinian mediators are "hopeful" they can negotiate a truce between the Al Qaeda-linked militant group Fatah al-Islam and Lebanese forces. Thus far, all attempts to broker a peace deal have failed, and 40,000 refugees have fled the Palestinian Nahr al-Bared refugee camp near Tripoli.

The plan entails a ceasefire after which the militants would retreat to within the camp's official boundaries. Mainstream Palestinian factions would deploy a 150-strong force in Nahr al-Bared and Fatah al-Islam would announce its disbandment.

Islamic Jihad, one of the mainstream Palestinian groups, said results would emerge in hours.

"There is clear responsiveness from Fatah al-Islam," Islamic Jihad representative Abu Emad al-Refaie told al-Manar television [a pro-Hizbullah station in Beirut]. "I think what has been reached now opens important and positive horizons to end this crisis."

The Associated Press reports that the possibility of compromise is a major reversal for both sides that has "opened the doors for a solution."

Until now, the [Lebanese] army had said its decision to eliminate Fatah al-Islam was "final and irreversible," and the militants had pledged to fight to death rather than comply by the army's request that they surrender.

Although the Lebanese Army alleges to have "destroyed one of the group's main positions," Al Jazeera reports that throughout the offensive Lebanese forces have been careful to honor the 1969 agreement that prohibits them from entering any of the country's 12 Palestinian refugee camps.

The army has slowly encroached on the area controlled by Fatah al-Islam, without entering the camp's official boundaries.

Given Lebanon's history of civil war and violence, many observers worry that country may descend into an Iraq-like spiral, reports the Beirut newspaper The Daily Star. Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who arrived in Lebanon Tuesday with Saudi, Egyptian, and Tunisian officials, downplayed this concern, but warned of a possible "imminent regional flare-up."

"We have to protect Lebanon from these dangerous winds," he said.

Mr. Moussa said he would convey to all parties in Lebanon a unanimous Arab position on the situation and developments in Lebanon.

"We hope, God willing, to achieve progress," he said. "We have come to express a position, I am optimistic on moving forward and we would ask of everyone to help us achieve this progress."