TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Clashes broke out Tuesday afternoon in Tripoli between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, leaving a teenager dead and raising fears that a new wave of violence would rock Lebanon’s second city.
Residents of the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood – which supports the embattled Syrian president – exchanged gunfire, mortar bombs and rocket-propelled grenades with their rivals in Bab al-Tabbaneh.
The dead boy was identified as 13-year-old Daniel Ahmad, a security source told The Daily Star. The fighting, which continued till late into the night, also left 14 wounded.
The Army blocked the main highway linking Tripoli to Akkar after a person was wounded by sniper fire at the Malloula roundabout.
Several Lebanese University faculties as well as private and public schools were forced to close in nearby Baddawi, Bab al-Tabbaneh, Qibbeh and Zahrieh.The violence shattered a truce which has held in the city since June and dealt a blow to attempts by the caretaker government to maintain security through a plan which is still only in its the first phase.
The wounded, including four soldiers, were transferred to nearby hospitals in the city, the source added.
The two neighborhoods have a history of violent clashes since the Syrian uprising against Assad began in early 2011.
Clashes first broke out Monday evening following Assad’s appearance on a television interview, but subsided later at night.
Abdel-Latif Saleh, the media official of the Arab Democratic Party which holds sway in Jabal Mohsen, told The Daily Star Tuesday afternoon that no shots were fired from the neighborhood toward Bab al-Tabbaneh the earlier day.
“We had hoped that before President Bashar Assad was to speak on television, all of our party members and residents of Jabal Mohsen will not fire bullets and the Army was aware of that, especially since we had broadcast this decision over loudspeakers all over Jabal Mohsen’s streets,” Saleh said.
He said at 9 p.m., following Assad’s appearance on television, young men no older than 17 began launching fireworks, after which Saleh and a number of men were shot at with bullets coming from Bab al-Tabbaneh and Bakkar.
“We are still being shot at even though we have left it up to the Army to control the situation, and had the head of the Arab Democratic Party Rifaat Eid wanted the condition to escalate, he would not have asked to put a stop to the fireworks and the bullets,” he added.
Saleh said he had to cut the conversation short as he had just received information that a resident of Jabal Mohsen had been hit in the stomach.
Tripoli MP Mohammad Kabbara, from the Future parliamentary bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, said the deterioration in the security situation in Tripoli indicated that there was no serious will to implement the security plan.
He criticized President Michel Sleiman for failing to protect Tripoli from what he called the “agents of Assad” in Jabal Mohsen.
“What surprises us is that the president only discusses the security situation with heads of security agencies every week at a time when the city is about to die because of unprecedented chaotic security conditions that are not being addressed properly,” Kabbara told a news conference in Tripoli.
“Do you know, president, that more than 500,000 Lebanese Sunnis are being surrounded with fires?” Kabbara asked. “How do you describe what is happening? Where is your role [in protecting the city]?”
Earlier Tuesday, fear was evident as residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh were preparing for battle in spite of the Army patrols.
Sitting by one of the barricades facing Jabal Mohsen, Khaled said shots were fired over his neighborhood “as soon as Bashar Assad, who is killing his people and who has sent us cars rigged with bombs, appeared on television.”
“That was what upset us, for if they were shooting for the Lebanese president, we would’ve joined them. So we ask, are they loyal to Lebanon or to Syria?”
Khaled said the residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh wanted all political parties in Lebanon to be loyal to their country.
He added that following Eid’s statements threatening Tripoli, and the identification of those responsible for the August Tripoli bombings, the residents of the neighborhood no longer felt safe from the Syrian regime’s involvement in Lebanon.
Earlier this month, the judiciary charged seven people from Jabal Mohsen with involvement in two car bomb attacks that killed 47 people and wounded hundreds.
Walid al-Zoabi, sipping coffee following a night of fire exchange with Jabal Mohsen, said that after it was clear that those behind the bombings included Syrian intelligence officials in Jabal Mohsen, residents felt they would no longer have to defend themselves as judicial authorities would handle the situation.
“But before Assad appeared on television they had already taken the decision of shooting at us in the sure belief that retaliation would mean war,” Zoabi said.