TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The death toll on the fourth day of clashes in the northern city of Tripoli between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad rose to six Thursday, security sources said.
President Michel Sleiman said late Thursday he instructed security forces led by the Army to redeploy and restore order as soon as possible.
On his Twitter feed, Sleiman who headed earlier a security meeting at Baabda Palace addressing the volatile situation in the city, also said: "It is no longer acceptable for bloodshed in Tripoli to continue and all officials should work on saving the capital of the north."
Bassam Youssef Abdallah was killed Thursday afternoon by sniper fire in Jabal Mohsen. Abdallah is a leading figure in the Arab Democratic Party, a source at the pro-Assad party told The Daily Star.
"Abdallah is an official in the party but not a military commander as reported by some media outlets," the source said.
Misbah al-Nazer, a businessman, was also killed Thursday by sniper fire as the fighting between the rival neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, which began Monday evening, raged throughout the night.
Twelve people were wounded Thursday bringing the total number to 50 since the clashes erupted after Assad made an appearance in a television interview.
Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city, has seen recurrent clashes linked to the crisis in neighboring Syria, namely between the mainly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, which backs Assad, and the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh, which supports the Syrian uprising.
After an overnight meeting at Hamzeh Mosque in Qibbeh, field commanders from Bab al-Tabbaneh decided to carry on with the fight, sinking hopes of a breakthrough to end the violence.
The deployment of some Army units in the city also failed to deter the warring sides. Fighters from the two neighborhoods traded gunfire, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar bombs throughout the night.
As on previous days, schools remained closed and much of the city’s streets were empty.
A number of the residents in the city told The Daily Star they felt trapped.
Ahmad Mnajed, one Tripoli resident, said he had been trapped in the neighborhood of Baqqar for over three days and was running low on food for his family.
“I cannot get to work because of the clashes and I have been forced to borrow money from some neighbors to get some goods from the grocery store,” he said. “The situation is just unbearable.”
Helmi Al-Mawwas, a resident of Bab al-Tabbaneh, said the volatile situation in the city produced constant anxiety.
“Even when the situation is calm, we are always living in fear that the clashes will erupt at any moment ... We’ve had enough,” he said.
Jabal Mohsen local Maha al-Ali also lamented being unable to leave her neighborhood, noting the difficulties of getting to work or seeing friends in other parts of the city.
“We are being labeled on a sectarian basis even if we oppose strife. This is the worst thing ever,” she said.
“My whole life has been in Tripoli and now I feel scared to go around the neighborhoods although I have always refused to take any political side,” she said.
“[ Tripoli has become so] ugly because it no longer accepts diversity or a different point of view - not in Jabal Mohsen nor in Tabbaneh.”
Meanwhile, Salafist Sheikh Salem al-Rafi, a prominent Islamist figure in Tripoli, urged the government to shoulder its responsibility in preserving security in the city, asking officials to disband the Arab Democratic Party for its alleged role in the city's August bombings.
"The Arab Democratic Party should be disbanded ... and its members should be tried as some of them were charged over the Tripoli bombings,” Rafi said at a news conference.
Two car bombs exploded at separate mosques when Salafist sheikhs including Rafi were delivering Friday sermons, killing at least 47 people and wounding over 100.
Seven suspects were charged over the deadly blasts with preliminary investigations linking the suspects to Syrian intelligence services and the pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party based in Jabal Mohsen.
During his televised news conference, Rafi described his rivals in the ADP as “Assad’s tools,” that carried out the Syrian regime’s orders.
Rafi also criticized the government for failing to respond to the bombings.
“If the bombings had occurred in a different area like [Beirut’s] southern suburbs, they would have arrested ten people and charged them," he said.
“If we were of another sect, we wouldn't have been treated this way,” he said.
The Salafist sheikh said the city has been under attack “by a murderous party” despite the security plan being implemented by the authorities.
“The security plan doesn't protect us and doesn't allow us to defend ourselves,” he said.
Rafi also lashed out at the Army for allegedly failing to apprehend snipers who he said were situated in Jabal Mohsen.
"The Army responds to the sources of sniper fire but why doesn't the military arrest them?” he asked.
The president headed Thursday a meeting at Baabda Palace to follow up on the security situation in the country, particularly Tripoli.
The meeting was attended by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, ministers and security chiefs.
Following the meeting, Mikati, who admitted that a plan to bring security in the city had yet to be realized, said new “serious” security measures would be implemented.
“The situation in Tripoli cannot go on as is and we should put an end to the security recklessness in the city,” he said.
“Tripoli’s citizens rely on the state and we cannot let them down and that is why serious security measures will be implemented in the city,” he added.
“The security plan [intended for Tripoli] has not been completely implemented and it will be rolled out in phases,” he said.
The Tripoli MP added that a meeting would be held soon with judicial and security officials to tackle measures that should be taken in the northern city.