Lebanon News

Tripoli death toll hits six as Army tries to quell clashes

Civilians walk past Lebanese security forces deployed in a street of the northern port city of Tripoli on January 19, 2014 as part of heightened security measures. (AFP PHOTO IBRAHIM CHALHOUB)

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: At least three people died and over a dozen were wounded in Tripoli clashes Monday, bringing the death toll to six in the most recent round of violence in the northern city.

Violent clashes were still raging Monday evening as The Daily Star went to press. Fawaz Sleiman Ibrahim, Mahmoud al-Yashouti, and 3-year-old Mohammad Dandanbin, who was killed by a stray bullet to the head in Qibbeh, died in the fourth consecutive day of fighting in Tripoli.

While a fragile calm endured during the morning hours Monday, heavy fighting erupted later in the day and continued into the evening with heavy gun- and grenade-fire.

RPGs, mortar bombs and machine guns were used in clashes overnight, resulting in material damage to Souk al-Bastat, near the Abou Ali River.

A toy store in Souk al-Kameh also caught on fire.

Monday’s toll brought the total number of fatalities in clashes since Friday in the city to six, with about 50 wounded.

The clashes, which erupted between gunmen of the mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood and their rivals in mostly Alawite Jabal Mohsen, began after eight people, including six children, were killed Friday in a rocket attack launched from Syria on the northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal.

Tripoli MP Mohammad Kabbara said Monday that the Lebanese Army would begin deploying at 6 p.m. to impose a cease-fire, beginning from the Qibbeh neighborhood and passing through to Jabal Mohsen. The deployment would be completed by 6 a.m. Tuesday in Bab al-Tabbaneh and surrounding areas, he said.

Kabbara called on all residents to cooperate with the Army’s measures.

Residents from across Tripoli neighborhoods expressed their anxieties over the deteriorating situation and deplorable conditions in the city.

Abed Mahfoud, from Jabal Mohsen, told The Daily Star that his neighborhood was paying the price of divisions arising from the Syria conflict and local politics.

“It is not acceptable that over 15,000 Alawites in Tripoli pay the price of a political dispute,” he said.

“Each time something happens in Arsal or over the government formation and similar matters, battles in Tripoli resume,” he added.

Most schools in the city remained closed, as did businesses near the two rival neighborhoods.

The international road that connects Tripoli to Akkar also remained closed.

The two Tripoli neighborhoods have engaged in numerous rounds of deadly clashes since the uprising against the Syrian regime began in March 2011.

The Lebanese Army deployed units in Tripoli last year as part of a security plan to curb fighting between the two sides but have so far been unable to quell violence in the city.

Mahfoud said that Jabal Mohsen residents who were wounded in the clashes suffered the most as there were no nearby hospitals and residents feared traveling to central Tripoli for treatment.

“We get trapped, there are no hospitals in our neighborhood and we wait for the Army to come and transfer the wounded to Zghorta,” Mahfoud said.

For his part, Ahmad Zahra, a father of seven from the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood, said he had sent his family members to stay with relatives in Mina during the battles, out of fear for their lives.

“But I feel embarrassed for making them stay at other people’s homes. We are becoming a burden to others,” he said.

Mariam Qassem, a nurse at a Tripoli hospital, said that most of her patients were neighbors and friends.

“The pain is doubled when I see them like that,” she said, of the wounded patients she received.

Qassem added that wounded patients were often the ones to reassure her of her parents’ safety. “Things are just terrible,” she said.

Lebanese politicians called Monday for the quick formation of a government and for a solution to the persistent conflict in the northern city.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Tripoli and its residents were “weary of the futile events, for which civilians and the economy are paying the price,” calling for the quick formation of a government in order to resolve the “intractable crisis” in the northern city.

For his part, caretaker Sports and Youth Minister Faisal Karami held political and religious leaders as well as security forces responsible for the recent bloodshed in the city.

“Tripoli residents were living in a state of disgust and anger, and realized yesterday that they are completely outside the circle of interest [of leading politicians, and that the country is more preoccupied with waste than with the ongoing hell in Tripoli,” he said, referring to a sit-in at the Naameh landfill that has caused piles of garbage to overflow in Beirut and Mount Lebanon.

Future MP Samir Jisr said the formation of a government would give people “a dose of hope” but that the security forces had to do their job to protect the northern city.

He also blamed Hezbollah for inciting the clashes.

Mufti of Tripoli and the North Malek Shaar released a statement saying that Tripoli’s residents were no longer capable of enduring the violence, calling on “the military and the judiciary to quickly arrest the criminals behind the Tripoli mosques explosion ... so that people can feel that the blood of their sons is not outside the interest of the government.”

He was referring to the Aug. 23 bombings outside the Al-Salam and Al-Taqwa mosques that killed 47 people and wounded scores more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 21, 2014, on page 3.




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