SIDON/TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Clashes erupted in Tripoli Tuesday as Lebanese security forces Tuesday remained on full alert across the country in anticipation of a backlash against the Army’s five-day operation to rid Arsal of militants.
Tripoli was paralyzed by clashes that persisted throughout the day, prompting the Army to withdraw its forces from the northern neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh.
A military statement said a bus carrying soldiers from the Tripoli neighborhood of Malouleh came under gunfire from armed gunmen, leaving seven soldiers wounded.
A security source told The Daily Star that one soldier was in critical condition after the 6 a.m. attack.
Prior to the incident, gunmen tossed stun grenades, stones and Molotov cocktails at Lebanese Army positions between midnight and 3 a.m., according to the source.
The attacks targeted Army positions near the Abu Ali roundabout, the Al-Mankoubine area and the infamous Syria Street.
The source said an 8-year-old girl died Tuesday of wounds she sustained during the overnight clashes in the Bab al-Tabbaneh area. Nine other people, including four Lebanese soldiers, were also wounded, the source added.
Sniper fire targeting the roads from Abu Ali roundabout to Maaloula roundabout kept the highway linking Tripoli with the northern province of Akkar closed for another day until the Army withdrew from Bab al-Tabbaneh shortly before the 8-year-old girl was laid to rest in Tripoli’s Al-Rashwani Mosque at noon.
“There is no Army presence in Bab al-Tabbaneh,” the security source told The Daily Star.
A statement issued on behalf of Bab al-Tabbaneh residents condemned those fighting in the neighborhood and said the clashes had nothing to do with the residents.
The statement described the clashes “very serious.”
“We still believe that the Lebanese Army is the protector of the homeland and the citizens,” the statement said, while urging the military to “act responsibly.”
“I call on the people of Tripoli to show wisdom and self-restraint and not to get drawn into absurd conflicts with the Lebanese Army,” Future Movement MP Mohammad Kabbara said in a news conference at his northern residence.
“Despite what people are trying to convey, I am with the Lebanese Army and I support their enforcement of total control over Lebanese territories without distinction,” he said.
Kabbara reiterated his belief that Hezbollah’s interference in Syria was what had brought the militants into Lebanon and was drawing the country into the Syrian crisis, although his rhetoric was significantly toned down compared with previous statements about the subject.
An attack on the delegation of the Muslim Scholar Committee in Arsal triggered the fighting in Tripoli, according to the security source.
Three members of the committee were wounded when their vehicle came under fire as it entered Arsal at midnight to mediate a truce between militants and the Lebanese Army.
Sheikh Jalal Kalash was rushed to a Beirut hospital in critical condition, while Sheikh Salem Rafei and Sheikh Nabih al-Halabi were only slightly hurt.
The Committee of Muslim Scholars said it had “no clear evidence” as to who targeted the delegation’s car. Elsewhere in the country, pre-emptive measures were ramped up in areas that could potentially serve as hubs for unrest and violence targeting the Army. In the south, the Internal Security Forces carried out a raid in the Ouzai complex near Sidon, in which Syrian refugees are housed. They searched every apartment in the three-story building, looking for arms or anyone affiliated with radical Syrian opposition groups.
Security personnel deployed heavily around the neighborhood and were seen on top of the building monitoring movements, with no one else allowed to enter or exit the complex.
Otehr places where the Army was deployed included a deserted complex in the Kfar Falous neighborhood in Jezzine, and Sidon’s Hammoud University Hospital, where an Army lieutenant was transferred to the hospital to receive treatment for wounds inflicted during the Arsal clashes.
The situation in the Palestinian Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near Sidon was generally calm, however, with residents going about their day as usual or carrying out protests in support of Gaza.
In line with efforts to distance the refugee camps from Arsal repercussions, head of the Intelligence Branch of the Lebanese Army in the south Brig. Gen. Ali Shahrour held a meeting with a Palestinian delegation comprising of the chief of the Palestinian National Security Force and the Palestinian Security Force commander, among others.
The attendees agreed to revitalize the role of the Palestinian Elite Security Force, which was created to protect the camps two months ago, in order to strengthen coordination between Lebanese and Palestinian authorities in maintaining stability and security in the camps.
“The camp will not be a launching pad or corridor for [crimes] damaging Lebanese civil peace and we will not allow involvement in any act that harms the security and stability of Lebanon’s people or Army,” said the Deputy Commander of Palestinian National Security Maj. Gen. Mounir Maqdah.
In the southern Zahrani area, security forces and the military, aided by the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, assisted with the scrupulous monitoring of Syrian refugee communities in order to prevent any security breaches.