BEIRUT: Lebanon decided Monday to put the northern city of Tripoli under the command of the military for a period of six months in a bid to end repeated clashes there linked to the war raging in Syria.
The measure, last employed during Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War period, came as security forces deployed in the restive city where 12 people have been killed and more than 100 people wounded in three days of clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"We decided to commission the Lebanese Army to take all necessary measures to maintain security in Tripoli for six months and place the military forces as well as police under its command," caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati told reporters after a high-level security meeting at Baabda Palace, adding that the decision was in line with Article 4 of the Defense Law.
A decree will soon be issued tasking the Army’s Military Council with determining the mechanism needed to implement the decision. The decree requires the signatures of Mikati, President Michel Sleiman and caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn.
The decision infuriated Tripoli-based Dai al-Islam al-Shahal, the founder of the Salafist Movement in north Lebanon, who vowed to thwart the security measures.
“Mikati is selling Tripoli out ... we can only see this decision as an attack on the Sunni community and its stronghold Tripoli,” Shahal told local media.
“We will work on foiling this decision politically for the sake of Lebanon, its security and stability,” he added.
In a Twitter post an hour after the announcement from Baabda Palace, Mikati denied being quoted as stating his home city would be turned into a “military zone.”
Mikati's office said the caretaker PM was misquoted earlier as saying Tripoli would become a "military zone."
Turning a Lebanese area into a military zone requires a Cabinet decision which would also entail announcing a state of emergency.
Meanwhile, a 600-strong police force deployed to the northern city to end the intermittent fighting which picked up in the afternoon following a lull in the early hours of the day.
Police officers will be under the command of the Army as part of a security plan to restore calm to the city, Lebanon's second largest.
Twelve people were killed and 100 wounded from the weekend clashes between the rival neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen, which supports Assad, and nearby Bab al-Tabbaneh, a predominantly Sunni neighborhood which backs Syrian rebels.
Among the casualties was a 12-year-old boy wounded by sniper fire and two soldiers.
In a statement, the Army said it dispatched patrol units in several parts of the city and upped its security measures in Jabal Mohsen, Bab al-Tabbaneh, Hay al-Amircan, Al-Baqqar, and Syria Street.
It also said that the military raided several locations where gunmen were believed to be stationed, confiscating light weapons, ammunitions, various military equipment and a number of wireless communications devices.
Similar to the previous 17 rounds of clashes over the past two years, the fighting focused on the frontlines of Riva, Baqqar, Hay al-Amircan, Mankoubeen and Abu Ali river trail.
Mortar bombs and RPGs fell on areas outside the traditional battle zone, including Hay al-Ghorabaa and around al-Qasr bakery in Zaharieh, which is located between al-Tal and Bab al-Tabbaneh.