Saudi role in Lebanon camp fight overblown-consul
RIYADH, July 8 (Reuters) The number of Saudis in the al Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam group battling the Lebanese army has been exaggerated by some Lebanese, a Saudi official was reported as saying today.
Lebanese troops have been fighting the militant group at a Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon since May 20. More than 200 people have been killed.
Lebanese officials have said dozens of Fatah al-Islam's members are from the kingdom, after hundreds of Saudis are thought to have gone to Iraq to fight with al Qaeda militants against US forces and the US-backed government there.
But Riyadh's consul in Beruit, Abdel-Hadi al Shafei, said few of the dead fighters had been identified as Saudi and there was no evidence that many more were fighting at the camp.
''Lebanese parties are exploiting the Saudi presence among Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr al-Bared camp,'' Shafei told London- based daily al-Hayat, which is owned by a senior Saudi prince.
''There is a desire to embarrass Saudi Arabia by announcing 'large numbers' of Saudis among the dead, although bodies are charred and disfigured and no documents have affirmed they are Saudi.'' Shafei said only six to eight bodies in a Tripoli morgue were those of Saudi nationals and one body had been delivered to its Saudi family. He said it was not known if any Saudis were among Fatah al-Islam fighters who had been buried in Lebanon.
An Interior Ministry spokesman in Riyadh said the ministry had no official confirmation from Lebanon of the number of Saudi dead, but was seeking clarification.
Fatah al-Islam's members are mainly believed to be Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians and Saudis, and some have fought in Iraq.
Lebanon's anti-Syrian government says the group is a tool of Syrian intelligence services, but Damascus and Fatah al-Islam deny this. The group says it agrees with the ideology of al Qaeda but has no organisational ties to it.
REUTERS PD KP1612