TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army restored a fragile peace to Tripoli Thursday evening after two people were killed in daylong clashes sparked by the assassination of a pro-Syrian regime party official, prompting threats of further violence.
Among the fatalities was truck driver Mohammad Jamal. Five other people, including a woman, were also wounded, security sources said.
Earlier, the Arab Democratic Party issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Lebanese authorities following the assassination of party official Abdel-Rahman Diab while he was driving just outside Tripoli early Thursday.
ADP Secretary-General Rifaat Eid said in a statement issued after a meeting of party officials that if Diab’s killers were not arrested by the deadline, the government would be responsible for the “explosion” of the Alawite community.
Eid identified three residents of Tripoli, Khaled Rai, Omar Ahmad and Khaled Qawas, as Diab’s killers.
Diab’s death comes after a number of Alawites in the city have been assaulted and shot at in recent months by militants opposed to President Bashar Assad.
“We can’t remain silent anymore. If the government doesn’t arrest the shooters in 48 hours, Tripoli will be directly targeted,” Eid warned. “We will deal firmly with the issue and let Tripoli bear the consequences.”
Diab, an official with the Alawite, pro-Assad ADP, was assassinated by masked gunmen on a small motorcycle who shot him as he drove along the coastal Mina highway at dawn, according to security sources. He died instantly after 12 bullets pierced his chest, head and neck, the sources said.
Diab was the father of Youssef Diab, one of the suspects in the twin car bombs that hit Tripoli in August.
Youssef was arrested last October in connection with the Aug. 23 attacks on the Al-Taqwa and Al-Salam mosques that killed 47 people and wounded more than 300.
He reportedly confessed to driving a rigged car to Al-Salam Mosque and detonating it while another member of the ADP, Ahmad Merhi, drove another vehicle and blew it up at Al-Taqwa Mosque.
Last year, the judiciary charged Ali Eid, ADP’s founder, with helping Merhi flee to Syria. Eid has consistently refused to show up for questioning, further raising tensions in Tripoli over the perceived lack of action taken to prosecute those responsible for the mosque attacks.
Thursday’s assassination sparked intermittent clashes between the ADP-dominated neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, where Assad is enormously popular, and rivals in the mainly Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh.
ADP snipers began shooting at the rival neighborhoods of Maaloula and Mankoubin, and the Lebanese Army returned fire.
Troops also closed the highway linking Tripoli to Akkar due to sniper activity. The Army reopened it again once clashes stopped around 5 p.m., but traffic remained light.
By midmorning, almost all public and private schools across Tripoli had shut down over fears the security situation could deteriorate further, with the Lebanese University canceling all exams scheduled for Thursday.
In an apparent move to try to defuse tensions, militia leaders in Bab al-Tabbaneh called on young fighters to withdraw and allow the Army to contain the situation.
“We call on all our young men not to slide into the battle and let the Lebanese Army respond to the attacks,” said a statement signed by Saad Masri on behalf of local militia leaders. “We ask all our young men in the battlefields not to be dragged into a fight that serves the Syrian regime and Hezbollah and inflicts material and physical losses on us.
“Let the Lebanese Army defend the innocent people.”
Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr ordered an investigation into the clashes, while Prime Minister Tammam Salam denounced the assassination and instructed the Lebanese Army to act “quickly and decisively” to apprehend the perpetrators.
The new premier vowed that he would show “zero tolerance” for any attempts to undermine security in the northern city.