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Talks avert anticipated Tripoli clashes
Sayyed Hani Fahs, leads a protest calling for peace in Tripoli in front of the United Nations headquarters in Beirut, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
Sayyed Hani Fahs, leads a protest calling for peace in Tripoli in front of the United Nations headquarters in Beirut, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Intensified contacts between political and religious figures in Tripoli spared Lebanon’s second city a tense Friday, as an anti-Army protest was canceled at the last minute.

Calm reigned in the city with shops opening and universities and schools holding classes again. Backed by reinforcements, the Army patrolled streets and neighborhoods.

Positive signs emerged after Tripoli-based Salafist Sheikh Dai al-Islam al-Shahhal canceled his call for a sit-in at the Grand Mansouri Mosque after Friday prayers to protest the Army’s crackdown.

Instead, Shahhal warned against Tripoli residents being dragged into a confrontation with the Army.

“Work to prevent the use of the Army against the Sunni sect,” Shahhal said. “We do not accept that the Army and other state establishments be used [as a tool] to serve one group at the expense of another.”

In a bid to end the 18th round of Syria-linked clashes in Tripoli, the government authorized the Army Monday to take charge of Tripoli’s security.

But the Army’s security plan was met with resistance. A number of gunmen from Bab al-Tabbaneh opened fire Thursday night at Army patrols and protested the military’s raids and arrests across the city, saying it was only targeting the Sunni sect.

Gunmen tried to storm the Army barracks in Qibbeh, killing soldier Abdel-Karim Farhat in the confrontation. Farhat’s funeral was held in the Beirut southern suburb of Burj al-Barajneh Friday.

Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, the former head of the Internal Security Forces, said he doubted the Army’s security plan would bring peace to Tripoli. Rifi also said that contacts he made with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, as well Tripoli residents, eventually calmed the situation.

“This is the 12th plan. ... The plan does not give total safety to the people of Tripoli,” Rifi said in an interview with Al-Arabiya television.

Rifi, who hails from Tripoli, said that people of the city were defending themselves against ADP gunmen.

“There are gunmen who belong to a state or a party that has military and financial capabilities on one side, and on the other side, there are people defending their country with minimum arms and funding,” Rifi said.

Gunmen in Bab al-Tabbaneh and many residents and figures of Tripoli are demanding that Ali Eid, head of Jabal Mohsen’s Arab Democratic Party, be brought to justice for alleged involvement in the twin bombings of Aug. 23 that targeted two mosques.

Eid is suspected of facilitating the escape of one of the alleged perpetrators of the car bomb attacks.

Rifaat Eid, the son of Ali, denied accusations that the ADP triggered the latest round of violence.

Speaking to a local television station Friday, Eid said there were parties working to spark strife in Tripoli.

A meeting held by prominent figures and preachers in Tripoli late Thursday night contributed to containing tension.

The figures said in a statement that the reaction of Bab al-Tabbaneh’s residents was an isolated incident resulting from an attack started by a Jabal Mohsen “gang” that targeted civilians.

The statement called on residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh in particular and Tripoli in general to exercise self-restraint, as the Army had no intention to clash with residents of the city.

Dozens of civil society activists gathered in Riad al-Solh Square in Downtown Beirut, waving Lebanese flags and calling for peace in Tripoli.

The protest saw participation from Tripoli figures, including the city’s Mayor Nader Ghazal and MP Samer Saade. Protesters from other Lebanese districts were on hand as well.

The protest was organized by the Gathering for Civil Action, which is headed by Shiite preacher Sayyed Hani Fahs, and a civil society group from Tripoli.

“We feel that we live outside the state, or in another country close to the Lebanese state, which does not care about our pain and suffering,” said Maha Mqaddam, the head of the Association of Bank Employees in the north.

Mqaddam urged the state to realize security in Tripoli. She also called for punishing those involved in the Tripoli bombings and those who assaulted Alawite workers in the city. Several Alawites were shot in the legs in Tripoli in the run-up to the 18th round of violence.

For his part, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt warned against leaving the Army in Tripoli without proper political protection.

“I warn against leaving the Army alone in Tripoli without total political cover from Tripoli figures first and Lebanese officials second, so that it can perform its duties and restore order and stability to the city,” Jumblatt said in a statement.

“Freezing the sources of funding for all armed groups is required along with cooperation between security and judicial agencies to uncover all those involved in these incidents, so they can be arrested,” Jumblatt said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 07, 2013, on page 2.
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