TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Tripoli continued for a third day Wednesday, leaving one dead and 29 wounded so far amid heavy military deployment in the northern city.
Schools across Lebanon’s second largest city remained closed Wednesday as fighters in the mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood exchanged rocket-propelled grenades, mortar bombs and assault rifle fire with rival militants in nearby Jabal Mohsen, a mainly Alawite area loyal to Assad.
Eleven people were wounded Wednesday, bringing the total to 29, including four soldiers. A 13-year-old boy identified as Daniel Ahmad was killed Tuesday.
Military units backed by armored vehicles patrolled some neighborhoods and responded to some of the gunfire by firing into the air, as the fighting between the two sides raised fears that a new wave of violence could rock Tripoli.
Lebanese Army commandos briefly deployed at the Hariri Project area, located between Baqqar and Jabal Mohsen, only to pull out at 4 a.m., a security source told The Daily Star.
Clashes broke out Monday evening following Assad’s appearance on a television interview, but subsided later at night. It was the most severe violence since the Army and security forces deployed in the restive northern city as part of a “security plan” aimed at keeping the peace. The first phase of the plan was put in effect after twin car bombs exploded at separate mosques in the city, killing 47 people and wounding over 100.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati moved to his residence in Tripoli to follow up on the volatile situation. While there, Mikati met with the city’s mufti, Sheikh Malek al-Shaar, who recently returned to Lebanon after nearly a year abroad for security reasons. The sheikh called on the Army and security forces to “act decisively” and restore calm in Tripoli in comments following the meeting.
In response to the renewed clashes, the Tripoli-based National Islamic Gathering held a meeting at Future MP Mohammad Kabbara’s residence in the city to discuss what the attendees described as “the strike to target the city’s reputation and tarnish its image.”
“[The violence] is intended to cover up the discovery of the terrorist network connected to Assad’s intelligence which carried out the bombings outside Al-Taqwa and Al-Salam mosques,” the group said in a statement.
Seven suspects were charged last week over the Aug. 23 bombings in Tripoli, with preliminary investigations linking the suspects to Syrian intelligence services and the Arab Democratic Party allied with the Syrian regime and based in Jabal Mohsen.
The ADP has denied the allegations.
The Gathering also said that the political and security authorities failed to resolve the security situation in the city, describing the caretaker government’s security plan as a “mockery.”
After the meeting, Kabbara said Tripoli politicians had cooperated with security agencies and lifted political cover from armed elements. He blamed Assad and the president’s supporters in Jabal Mohsen for igniting the most recent round of fighting.
“After the bombings, Tripoli’s residents cooperated with each other ... to confront the conspiracy aimed at destroying the city through these bombs that were sent by the butcher Assad through his agents in Jabal Mohsen,” Kabbara told reporters.
Meanwhile, Future MP Mouin Merhebi from Akkar said the security plan should stipulate a full deployment of the Army throughout Tripoli, echoing calls from other officials who have complained that the checkpoints are only operating at the city’s entrances.
“That way, the Army can arrest the gunmen and respond to sniper fire, shoot and apprehend the snipers,” Merhebi told The Daily Star.
Tripoli Mayor Nader Ghazal lamented that the intermittent clashes had the biggest impact on the city’s poorest communities.
“The reality is that we have always called for the need to save the city before it’s too late but to no avail,” Ghazal said. “Today Tripoli is suffering, and there is a pressing need to save it.”
Several MPs also called on President Michel Sleiman as commander in chief of the armed forces to hold a meeting with security agencies to address the deteriorating situation.
Sleiman met Wednesday with caretaker Sports and Youth Minister Faisal Karami, who hails from Tripoli.
According to Sleiman’s office, the two affirmed orders given to the security and military forces in Tripoli to restore order, prevent tensions and take the necessary measures to maintain peace.