Lebanon's defense minister declared Thursday that the Fatah Islam militant group has been crushed and its leaders on the run, but said combat in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon will continue until the remnants of the group are flushed out.

"I can notify the Lebanese that the military operation is over," Defense Minister Elias Murr said in a television interview late Thursday. "The Lebanese army has crushed those terrorists."

"What is happening now is some cleanup that the army's heroes are carrying out, and dismantling some mines."

"The Lebanese army has destroyed all Fatah Islam positions," he declared on the private Lebanese Broadcasting Television. "The army is combing the area. This terrorist organization has been uprooted," he added.

However, a few hours before he spoke sporadic battles continued in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp outside the northern port city of Tripoli.