TRIPOLI, Lebanon: A protest kicked off in the northern city of Tripoli Monday evening against the Army's operation in Arsal, where the military has been battling Islamist militants for three days.
The protest, led by the Committee of Muslim Scholars, began at the Harba neighborhood in the Sunni-majority neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh and was supposed to conclude at the highway connecting Tripoli to Akkar.
The military deployed in the neighborhood and prevented the protesters from reaching their destination. Angered by the Army blockade, men fired shots at soldiers who responded by firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Soldiers, backed by armored vehicles, launched raids in Tripoli in search for the gunmen and reinforced its posts in the city that have witnessed several rounds of clashes in previous years.
Carrying black flags with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria's logo, the protesters demanded that the Army end its military operation in Arsal and open a humanitarian corridor to the northeastern town.
Fourteen soldiers were killed and 86 others wounded in the fierce three-day clashes between the Army and militants, after the latter overran several checkpoints and a military center as well as a police station.
The jihadists, some of whom resided in Syrian refugee camps in Arsal, have taken at least 20 security personnel hostage, demanding the release of their brigade commander who was arrested Saturday.
Residents in Tripoli, Lebanon's second largest city, have repeatedly criticized the Army for allegedly discriminating against Sunni Muslims while neglecting Hezbollah's role in Syria.
Tripoli has witnessed several rounds of fighting between Sunni opponents and Alawite supporters of President Bashar Assad, killing over 100 and heavily damaging the city's infrastructure. Relative calm has prevailed in the area after the Army implemented a security plan to restore law and order.