U.S. delivers more arms to aid Lebanon

Published May 27, 2007

TRIPOLI, Lebanon - Lebanon's pro-Western prime minister on Saturday rejected opposition criticism over planeloads of U.S. military aid pouring in to shore up the country's army in its battle with Islamic militants in a Palestinian refugee camp.

Three more U.S. transport planes with military supplies arrived from Kuwait as part of an international airlift. A total of eight military transport planes have landed at Beirut airport since late Thursday - four from the U.S. Air Force, two from the United Arab Emirates and two from Jordan.

Prime Minister Fuad Saniora told the Arabic service of the British Broadcasting Crop. on Saturday that the aid was not a "crime" and that the weapons had been offered by different countries a year ago.

The fighting broke out May 20 when police raided suspected hideouts of al-Qaida-inspired Fatah Islam militants in Tripoli, searching for bank robbers. It spread to the nearby refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared, where Fatah Islam claims to have more than 500 fighters armed with automatic weapons, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

At least 20 civilians and 30 soldiers were killed in the fighting last week. The Lebanese military says 60 Fatah Islam fighters were killed; the group put the toll at 10.

A four-day-old truce between the Lebanese army and Fatah Islam mostly held up on Saturday despite sporadic gunfire in the Nahr el-Bared camp on the outskirts of the northern port city of Tripoli. But the Lebanese army has been gearing up for a renewed fight, rolling more troops into place around the camp already ringed by hundreds of soldiers backed by artillery and tanks.

The military confirmed it has received supplies from Arab countries and the United States but gave no details. Media reports said they included ammunition, body armor, helmets and night-vision equipment.

The U.S. aid is sensitive in a nation deeply divided between supporters of the pro-Western government and an opposition backed by America's Mideast foes, Iran and Syria. The opposition, led by the Shiite Hezbollah, accuses Saniora's government of being too closely allied to Washington.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah warned Friday that Lebanon was being dragged into a U.S. war against al-Qaida that would destabilize the country.