BEIRUT: Islamist groups in Tripoli suspended an anti-Army protest in the northern city Friday, averting a possible escalation, as the military continued its city-wide security plan to restore order following deadly clashes linked to the crisis in Syria.
Lebanon’s Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr charged four detainees from the Tripoli neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen over their alleged involvement in the recent clashes in the city that has claimed the lives of over a dozen people, judicial sources said.
Charges included “carrying out terrorist acts, killing and attempting to kill security members and citizens and destroying public and private property,” one source said.
The Army has so far detained 29 people as part of its plan to end the repeated clashes between fighters from the Sunni-dominated Bab al-Tabbaneh and their rivals in the Alawite majority Jabal Mohsen.
The government authorized the military earlier this week to take charge of the city for a period of six months.
However, their efforts have been met with resistance.
“The [anti-Army] protest was suspended because the situation in the city seems to be headed toward some form of a settlement,” Sheikh Nabil Rhim told The Daily Star. The protests had been scheduled to take place following Friday noon prayers.
In comments to the LBCI television Friday, Tripoli-based Salafist Sheikh Dai al-Islam al-Shahhal said the protest was suspended “because the aim of the demonstrations was temporary achieved.”
The leading Salafist said the call for the targeting of the military and protests a day earlier were a response to what he described as “the targeting of the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood and the attempts to provoke its residents.”
Rhim, a Salafist and a member of the Muslim Scholars Committee, said the protest would remain suspended “until we see how things are going to develop in Tripoli.”
“We do not want more trouble in the city but we will not accept that our sons become a scapegoat for the military," Rhim said.
On Thursday, Islamist groups in Tripoli urged supporters to join scheduled protests against the Army, saying the military’s recent crackdown in the northern city aimed at targeting the Sunni sect.
“We can clearly say that the goal [of the security] is to deal a blow to Sunnis under the pretext of pursuing a wanted person here and there,” Shahhal said in a statement Thursday. “ Sunnis are not scapegoats,” he added.
On Thursday, a number of gunmen opened fire on Army patrols and held protests against military raids across the city.
Lebanon’s Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya warned against clashes between the Army and members of the Sunni community.
During Friday prayers at Aisha Bakkar, Beirut MP Imad Hout warned against “the trap to [cause strife] between the Army and the Sunni community in Lebanon.”
Hout, the head of the Lebanon branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, said the solution in “ Tripoli is to directly confront those tampering with security without discrimination.”
He also called for lifting cover from anyone participating in the fighting in the northern city.
MP Walid Jumblatt, for his part, warned against leaving the Army in Tripoli without proper political protection and reiterated that funding of armed groups in the city should stop.
“I warn against leaving the Army alone in Tripoli without the needed cover from local political figures and Lebanese leaders so that it can perform its duties to the fullest and restore order and stability to the city,” Jumblatt said in a statement.
He also criticized the “statements of condemnations” that he said were no longer enough to end the fighting that has claimed the lives of innocent civilians and army personnel.
"What is needed is for the sources of funding of all armed groups to dry up and that [ Tripoli residents] cooperate with the security and judicial agencies to uncover the perpetrators of these incidents and arrest them,” he said, adding that such steps would prevent a military confrontation.
Repeated clashes between fighters in the Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen have plagued Lebanon’s second largest city for years. The frequency and intensity of the fighting has surged since the uprising against President Bashar Assad in Syria.