Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa admitted Friday that mediation efforts to end the political crisis in Lebanon had failed, as clashes continued at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, despite an announcement by the army that operations had ended.
"Some ideas and theses proposed today hindered the possibility of reaching an official understanding" between the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority and the pro-Syrian opposition, Moussa told reporters at the end of a four-day visit.
Heading a delegation representing Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, Moussa said however that progress had been made toward a dialogue, with a view to the formation of a unity government and presidential elections in September.
The Shiite Hezbollah-led opposition first wants a government of national unity, but the majority insists that the priority is to secure the border with Syria, which it accuses of trying to destabilize Lebanon.
Another majority demand is that the opposition not place obstacles to the election of a new president, scheduled for September. The incumbent president, Emile Lahoud, is pro-Syrian.
Lebanon's political scene has been paralyzed for more than seven months amid rising political violence and assassinations of anti-Syrian parliamentarians.
Menwhile, sporadic shelling continued Friday despite a declaration made by Lebanon’s top military official late Thursday that operations to flush out Islamist militants holed up in a refugee camp for more than a month were over.
"The military operations in Nahr al-Bared camp have ended, but the camp will remain encircled until the total surrender of Fatah al-Islam," Defense Minister Elias Murr said in a television interview, referring to the Al-Qaeda inspired group.
His announcement came on the 33rd day of the siege, only hours after an army spokesman had said the fight would continue until the militants were crushed.
The minister did not go into detail, except to say that "the army has destroyed all the Islamists' positions" and was now carrying out searches and operations to disarm unexploded ordnance.
He also said that a total of 76 soldiers had died since the battle broke out on May 20, and that another 150 had been wounded.
The full militant toll is not known, but at least 50 have been killed since then.
That brought to at least 143 people who have been killed in the deadliest internal violence since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
The army and the Islamist fighters had traded sporadic fire throughout Thursday, with tank and mortar shells responding to machine-gun bursts from inside the camp. That shelling also continued Friday, according to live footage aired by Al-Arabiya TV.
"A number of the militants are now in the old (southern part of the) camp, and this should not have happened," an army spokesman told AFP, referring to a commitment by mainstream Palestinian factions, especially Fatah, to secure that sector, where some 2,000 civilians are still sheltering.
"We are determined to reply to each and every bullet fired at us, even if they use people's homes," the spokesman added.
The old camp is made up of single-storey buildings and narrow streets.
Lebanon's Fatah leader Sultan Abul Aynayn told AFP that Palestinian forces that were to have been deployed there to prevent Fatah al-Islam fighters from entering "could not be formed because of the conflict with Hamas" in the Gaza Strip.
Troops continued to consolidate their hold on the newer northern sector after pounding its high-rise concrete buildings almost non-stop with high explosives for weeks.
Both the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and the army have been saying that the battle will end only when Fatah al-Islam has been wiped out or surrenders.