( AFP ) - Islamist guerrillas who have been locked in three days of ferocious gunbattles with Lebanese troops said on Tuesday they would observe a unilateral ceasefire amid mounting concern over civilians caught up in the conflict.
"We have announced through the media that we are ready to respect a ceasefire, starting at 1130 GMT on Tuesday, and we hope the Lebanese army will accept our offer in order to help end the suffering of civilians in Nahr al-Bared," said Fatah al-Islam spokesman Abu Sali Taha.
The moved came after a lull in fighting around Nahr al-Bared, an impoverished Palestinian refugee camp that has been turned into a war zone under a barrage of Lebanese tank and artillery fire aimed at crushing the Al-Qaeda-inspired band of militants.
From daybreak, government troops had been hammering positions of Fatah al-Islam militiamen holed up in the camp on the third day of warfare that has killed 65 people and left dozens more wounded.
It is the bloodiest internal feuding since the 1975-1990 civil war and has stoked fears it could spread to other Palestinian camps and further shake the fragile security of a country riven by sectarian and political tensions.
Relief groups have warned of a humanitarian crisis in the squalid camp near the northern Mediterranean port city of Tripoli, but they said they hoped to take advantage of the lull and provide desperately needed aid to refugees trapped by the fighting.
The announcement by Fatah al-Islam, followed indirect negotiations on Monday to try to reach a ceasefire. There has been no response yet from the Lebanese government.
The group, which had warned it would take its fight beyond Nahr al-Bared and Tripoli, also claimed in a statement it was behind two bomb attacks in Beirut over the past two nights.
However, this was later denied by its spokesman.
In the face of the continuing battles, the Lebanese government had vowed after an emergency meeting on Monday to crush the "terrorist phenomenon" of Fatah Al-Islam.
"(The government) is determined to respond to any aggression and put a final end to this dangerous phenomenon... which has threatened to widen the scope of the aggression," said Information Minister Ghazi Aridi.
According to Lebanese army and Palestinian sources, 30 troops and 17 militants have been killed along with 17 Palestinian refugees and one Lebanese civilian.
The fragility of the situation was underscored by the second bomb blast in the Beirut on Monday which injured 10 people, the day after a one woman was killed in the a similar attack in the capital.
Residents say they are suffering from a lack of electricity and shortages of water, food and medical supplies in the camp, a squalid shantytown of narrow alleyways is home to about 31,000 of the 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
The camp is one of about 12 in Lebanon but under a four-decade-old arrangement it remains remains outside the authority of the government, creating a security vacuum that allows armed Palestinian factions to take control.
"We are one people with the Lebanese, but we will not let our Palestinian brothers be slaughtered," said Khalil Khaled, 50, as he joined a demonstration in the nearby Beddawi camp.
And the Lebanon head of the mainstream Palestinian Fatah movement warned that continued shelling could trigger an uprising by refugees who live mostly in abject poverty in camps across the country.