TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Lebanese soldiers arrested Tuesday 21 individuals in Tripoli for their role in the recent gunbattles linked to the crisis in Syria, a day after the northern city was placed under military control.
Despite the heavy deployment of a 600-strong police force along with the military, sporadic gunshots and sniper fire could still be heard in the city, particularly on Syria Street and in Starco.
An Army unit clashed with a group of gunmen in Al-Qibbeh, al-Riva, Syria Street and Al-Baqar.
Also Tuesday, Army chief Gen. Jean Kahwagi said the security plan in Tripoli was a limited operation, aimed at pursuing gunmen and others with warrants against them.
The Army, in a statement, said it had detained 21 individuals from the rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, eight of whom were referred to the office of the military prosecutor.
In a separate earlier statement, the Army said it had arrested a suspect described as a “dangerous wanted man” during raids it conducted in the city.
The suspect was identified as Ahmad Abdel-Qader Shami and the Army said he had previously pulled his gun at a soldier driving a military vehicle.
The Army said that gunmen opened fire on the Army patrol during the raid but that the soldiers retaliated and were able to apprehend Shami.
The military also came under gunfire when soldiers raided the hideouts of gunmen in Souk al-Areed at the entrance to Tripoli’s old city and Mharram Project in Bab al-Ramel.
The arrests came as a tenuous calm returned to the city, which a day earlier was placed under the command of the Army.
Soldiers and members of the Internal Security Forces conducted patrols throughout the day.
Despite the calm, many schools, universities and businesses chose to remain shut for fear that fresh fighting could shatter the relative calm.
Thirteen people have been killed in the most recent round of clashes that erupted over the weekend.
Fighters in Bab al-Tabbaneh, a mainly Sunni neighborhood that supports the Syria uprising, have frequently fought with their rivals in Jabal Mohsen, a predominantly Alawite neighborhood that supports the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Kahwagi said the military's security plan in the port city was limited to pursuing gunmen and others with warrants against them.
"The Army made a firm decision to confront violators wherever they may be, regardless of the party they are affiliated with and of political and party interests,” Kahwagi told a visiting delegation by the Committee of Muslim Scholars from Tripoli.
“Any security plan the military carries out will remain in the framework of pursuing gunmen and perpetrators and those wanted as per judicial warrants,” he added.
Kahwagi chaired a high-level security meeting at his office in Yarze to discuss the current developments as part of ongoing cooperation between various security agencies.
The meeting discussed events in the northern city and the participants agreed on a series of measures and steps to restore stability in Tripoli in light of the Army’s recent security plan.
Lebanon authorized the Army Monday to take charge of the security situation in Tripoli for a period of six months to prohibit any armed presence and to arrest those implicated in the fighting.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who held a series of meetings in his hometown of Tripoli, said the decision to place Tripoli under Army control was aimed at removing all ambiguity regarding the military's responsibility for containing the security situation in the port city.
"The security responsibility has never been clear with every round of violence which is why we decided to have all security forces in Tripoli under the Army's command,” Mikati told reporters at his Tripoli office.
"The Lebanese Army has the political cover needed from all Lebanese factions and it is carrying out its duties with the backing of the whole community,” he added.
Asked to comment on calls for him to cease exercising his duties as caretaker prime minister, Mikati said: "I will not do that and I have to shoulder my responsibility in this difficult time and support the Lebanese Army.”