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Bring Tripoli back from the brink

File - Lebanese soldiers patrol the area in Tripoli, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013. (The Daily Star/Stringer)

It is not too late to save Tripoli from being dragged into Syria’s civil war, but it requires the cooperation of those fanning the flames of violence in the northern city, high-ranking security sources told The Daily Star Wednesday.

The sources emphasized that local militias and gunmen were still under the thumb of politicians who could choose to rein in the violence.

They pointed out that the rockets, bombs and bullets used by the factions in Tripoli’s rival neighborhoods were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, while Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh were among the most impoverished areas in the city, if not the country.

The sources insisted that these weapons were deployed on orders from those who provide them, adding that the power players hailed from Tripoli, Lebanon and a number of Arab countries.

These puppet masters are not eager to see state security and military forces impose peace, as was made evident last week when a Lebanese Army unit attempting to carry out arrest warrants in Syria Street – which separates Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen – came under fire, killing a soldier.

However, the sources warned that the traditional leaders were losing ground to new groups with ties to Syria. Lebanese military and security forces deployed in the city have noticed the growing influence of armed Syrian groups, including some with ties to the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, particularly in Bab al-Tabbaneh.

Meanwhile, the sources said that Jabal Mohsen, whose residents support Syrian President Bashar Assad, must concede that they belong to the Lebanese state and do what the military and judicial authorities ask them to do.

They said that the smuggling of suspects in the twin bombings in Tripoli did not help at all in placating Bab al-Tabbaneh, whose residents back the anti-Assad uprising.

The argument that the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch is not neutral in this issue is unfounded because military forces in Tripoli are working in full coordination with them, the sources said.

The sources expressed surprise over the new Syrian military mobilization on Lebanon’s northern border with Syria following an arrest warrant against Ali Eid, the leader of the pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party, who was charged with the smuggling to Syria of wanted suspects in the bombings that targeted two mosques in Tripoli in August, killing 47 people and wounding over 500.

The sources said the struggle between a number of Tripoli’s leaders to gain popular support in Bab al-Tabbaneh and other neighborhoods did not and would not allow military forces to halt the fighting and put a final end to the ongoing conflict between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen.

Numerous security plans have been drawn up, but any attempt to confront the presence of armed gunmen in Tripoli has run up against political, security and logistical barriers.

The sources voiced fears that Tripoli might turn in the next months into an open front in the ongoing conflict in Syria with the expansion of the armed Syrian opposition’s military presence in the city.

However, the sources said it was not too late for Tripoli’s political leaders and government officials to rescue the city and put a stop to the downward spiral of violence.

Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel has acknowledged the role of foreign influence in Tripoli in statements made to the press.

“Unfortunately, the patrons of the fighters on the ground are not in Lebanon, but outside it,” he was quoted saying recently. “It is no secret that what is happening in Tripoli is mainly linked to what is happening in Syria.”

The security sources hoped that Tripoli’s political parties would take into account a proposal presented by one of the security apparatuses, which is being examined by leaders concerned with the northern city’s future.

The proposal calls for the building of a factory or small factories for fruit canning and juice production, a project that would secure jobs for many unemployed young men in Tripoli who are being drawn into the violence and revitalize the economy.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 07, 2013, on page 3.

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