TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The Army came under fire in Tripoli Monday as units were deployed in the city’s warring neighborhoods, failing to contain a week of bloody clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Army units were heading toward Syria Street, which separates Jabal Mohsen from the rival neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh, when they were targeted by gunfire. On Sunday, the Army completed its deployment in the predominantly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, which is inhabited by supporters of Assad.
The soldiers crossed Syria Street to Souk al-Qameh in the mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood shortly before pulling back due to heavy gunfire between the rival areas.
The fighting, now in its second week, has left at least 16 dead and 80 wounded. The Army said three soldiers were wounded during deployment.
“While it was deploying [units] to restore calm to the city of Tripoli at noon today, an Army patrol came under fire from gunmen in the Bab al-Tabbaneh area on Syria Street, wounding three soldiers,” a statement from the Army said.
The statement said members of the patrol responded to the fire, adding that Army units took special measures to arrest the perpetrators.
Residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh blocked the roads leading to their neighborhood with burning tires and trash containers to prevent the Army from entering. They argued that the Army was implementing a one-sided plan, claiming it was not actually present in Jabal Mohsen.
They said gunfire was targeting them and emanating from Jabal Mohsen.
Ziad Allouki, a local militia commander from Bab al-Tabbaneh, said that fighting would only stop when the Army arrested Rifaat Eid, the head of the Arab Democratic Party, dominant in Jabal Mohsen. He accused Eid of being behind two explosions that rocked Tripoli in August, at the behest of Assad, killing 47 people and wounding hundreds others.
“We are defending ourselves, our city and sect to prevent the occurrence of a third explosion in Tripoli,” Allouki said. “If the Army commander does not arrest Eid, then things will not be OK.”
On Monday evening, the Army chased gunmen riding the city streets on their motorcycles, far away from the volatile neighborhoods. The gunmen opened fire in the air and at Army posts.
Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr tasked the Army Intelligence with carrying out a preliminary investigation to identify those involved in the recent fighting so that appropriate legal measures could be taken against the perpetrators.
Also, Army Intelligence referred detainee Ahmad Mohammad Ali to relevant judicial authorities. Ali was arrested in Akkar over the weekend for alleged involvement in helping a major suspect in the Tripoli bombings to flee the country.
Earlier this month, the judiciary charged seven people, including some members of the ADP, for alleged involvement in the Tripoli attacks. Ali worked as Eid’s driver.
Speaking to The Daily Star, a source familiar with the situation in Tripoli expected the security situation to deteriorate further in response to the measures taken against Ali.
Speaking to reporters after visiting Speaker Nabih Berri at his Ain al-Tineh residence, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that the Army should impose order in Tripoli.
“I agreed on all issues I discussed with the speaker, including that the Army should fulfill its responsibility to put an end to the chaotic security situation in the city,” Mikati told reporters.
But the source said the Army Command was upset with politicians in Tripoli who claimed that they were not protecting the gunmen, while continuing to fund them.
For his part, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt lamented that Tripoli was itself a victim to futile struggles between regional alliances.
“Some of its poor and needy people are being deceived [into fighting each other] in return for pennies, that will only plant hatred for the future generation,” Jumblatt said in his weekly editorial in PSP’s Al-Anbaa newspaper.
“As if some believe that clashes between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen will change the course of bloody developments in Syria or will alter the existing dynamics in this conflict,” Jumblatt wrote, arguing that the Syria conflict was beyond the scope of the clashes in Tripoli and surpassed the power of the gunmen and those who finance them.
The PSP leader called on all parties to abide by the country’s disassociation policy, which calls for distancing Lebanon from developments in neighboring Syria.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel briefed President Michel Sleiman on the security situation in the country in general, particularly in Tripoli and the application of the security plan to restore order in the city.