BEIRUT -- Lebanon's defense minister declared victory yesterday over the Fatah Islam militant group, saying it had been crushed after a monthlong military assault on its stronghold in a northern refugee camp and only mopping up remained.
A Muslim cleric who has been acting as a mediator said later that Fatah Islam agreed to stop firing and that calm descended over the Nahr el-Bared camp outside the port of Tripoli.
The battle, Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 19751990 civil war, killed 76 soldiers, at least 60 militants, and more than 20 civilians. It occurred amid a fierce political power struggle between the Western-backed government and an opposition led by the militant Hezbollah.
"The Lebanese A rmy has destroyed all Fatah Islam positions," Defense Minister Elias Murr said on the private Lebanese Broadcasting Television. "The army is combing the area. This terrorist organization has been uprooted."
Sheik Mohammed Haj of the Palestinian Scholars Association, a mediator who met with the militant group's leaders in recent days, said Fatah Islam "has declared a cease-fire and will comply with the Lebanese Army's decision to end military operations."
He said the militants would abide by the conditions the army set to end the fighting, but he would not elaborate. Television stations and newspapers said the deal included handing over Fatah Islam's wounded and dismantling the group.
Murr said "the military operation is over," but stressed that the camp would remain "a theater of operations and under siege" until the militants surrendered.
Military officials said army specialists were clearing buildings, streets, and houses of explosives placed by the militants.
"The Lebanese A rmy has crushed those terrorists," Murr said. He said a "large number" of Fatah Islam commanders had been killed over the past month, while leader Shaker al-Absi, deputy leader Abu Hureira, and others were on the run, suggesting they were hiding in the camp among several thousand Palestinian civilians holed up there.
A few hours before Murr's announcement, sporadic shooting could be heard in the camp. "What is happening now is some cleanup that the army's heroes are carrying out and dismantling some mines," he said.
His comments were made after a few days of heavy combat, in which soldiers destroyed several compounds that housed Fatah Islam positions on the camp's fringes in what has become known as the "new camp."