TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Fighting in Tripoli raged on for a fifth consecutive day, reaching a fever pitch with intense sniper and rocket fire early Friday.
Residents of the northern city voiced feelings of helplessness and anger, as the death toll rose to six with dozens more wounded.
Maha al-Ali, a resident of the predominately Alawite Jabal Mohsen, which is currently locked in battle with its Sunni rival, Bab al-Tabbaneh, said she, her family and neighbors had stayed inside since the violence erupted Monday.
“I stay at home during the clashes because I may get attacked by some irrational groups who would harm me just because I’m Alawite,” she said. “Unfortunately, this is not the diverse and tolerant Tripoli [I know], this city is becoming ugly and doesn’t accept other sects anymore.”
Ali told The Daily Star that she feels that gunmen control daily life in the city, as schools, universities and most businesses shutter indefinitely each time the unmistakable rattle of gunfire and the boom of rocket-propelled grenades drown out all other sounds.
Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city, has seen recurrent clashes linked to the crisis in neighboring Syria, namely between Jabal Mohsen, which backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Bab al-Tabbaneh, which supports his opponents. The preliminary investigation into August’s deadly twin bombings at the Al-Taqwa and Al-Salam mosques turned up links with a local pro-Assad political party based in Jabal Mohsen. Tensions erupted Monday following a television interview with Assad.
“The violence has reached its 18th round,” Ali said, adding jokingly: “It’s all grown up now!”
Her sentiments were echoed by Bab al-Tabbaneh resident Helmi Al-Mawwas, who complained that 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.
Ahmad Mnajed, a Tripoli resident, said he had been trapped in the Baqqar neighborhood 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.”
The Lebanese University branch in Qibbeh, which is located close to the front lines, remained closed Thursday, postponing entrance exams.
“How can the students get an education and live a normal academic life if their university keeps closing with every round of violence?” said an outraged professor, Mahmoud Zyadeh. “This is the national university. We can’t go on like that.
“Is this the punishment of the students of the Lebanese University because they are poor and they can’t attend other private universities which are located away from the front lines?”
The economy has also taken a huge hit since the residents of surrounding towns and villages who usually do their shopping in Tripoli go elsewhere. The shop owners and merchants in the city said they didn’t expect the situation to improve even after the clashes subside, adding that it would take a lot to restore trust in the security situation.
Even the old city markets have not been spared, with battles between the Nashar and Genzerli families raging there Wednesday night, prompting the Lebanese Army to deploy heavily in the historical district to protect the ancient markets, buildings and mosques.
Twelve people were wounded Thursday, bringing the total number to 50 since the clashes erupted.
Bassam Youssef Abdallah was killed Thursday afternoon by sniper fire in Jabal Mohsen. Abdallah’s son, Walid, is a fighter in the pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party headed by Rifaat Eid.
Misbah al-Nazer, a businessman, was also killed early Thursday by sniper fire as the fighting, which began Monday evening, raged throughout the night. President Michel Sleiman said late Thursday that he instructed security forces led by the Army to redeploy and restore order as soon as possible following a meeting earlier in the day at Baabda Palace to discuss the crisis in Tripoli.
“It is no longer acceptable for bloodshed in Tripoli to continue and all officials should work on saving the capital of the north,” Sleiman tweeted.
The meeting was also 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” 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.”
Meanwhile, Salafist Sheikh Salem al-Rafi, a prominent Islamist figure in Tripoli, lashed out at the ADP, based in Jabal Mohsen, while calling on the government to shoulder its responsibility toward the city.
ADP leader Eid, for his part, said he “did not expect the clashes to end soon,” implying that his political foes had a vested interest in them continuing.