Lebanon News

Tripoli leaders meet as clashes rage on

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati talks to the press, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. (The Daily Star/DalatiNohra,HO)

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Local sheikhs and political figures held a series of meetings Wednesday in an attempt to contain clashes between rival neighborhoods in the northern city of Tripoli as the fighting entered its sixth consecutive day and claimed the life of a soldier. Fighting resumed following a brief lull Wednesday morning between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, killing one soldier and wounding others along with civilians, as well as inflicting material damage to buildings in Bab al-Tabbaneh and the vegetable market.

The Army said Hussein Saadeddine died Wednesday night from wounds sustained an attack targeting the Army in Bab al-Tabbaneh.

Seven other soldiers were wounded in similar attacks, it said.

In a statement, the Army said gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade toward a military vehicle at 6:40 a.m. in the Tripoli neighborhood of Maaloula, wounding three soldiers. One remained in critical condition Wednesday night.

The Army said that it had identified the perpetrators behind the attack as a group of gunmen headed by Talal Issa.

A security source told The Daily Star that troops fired back at their attackers and exchanged gunfire for about three hours in the vicinity of Syria Street, Talaat al-Omari and the Abu Ali roundabout.

The Army also said that another military vehicle came under fire at 7:35 a.m. in the same neighborhood near the Abu Ali Roundabout, wounding one soldier.

In the Bab al-Tabbaneh vegetable market, a group led by Mahmoud Hallaq, also known as Abu Khalil, and Mohammad Mustafa al-Nahili fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a military unit, the Army said, adding that the attack wounded four soldiers.

The Army said the source of the attacks for all three incidents was Bab al-Tabbaneh.

As the fighting between the warring neighborhoods entered its sixth day, 11 civilians were identified as wounded in the sporadic skirmishes between the mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh and rivals in the predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsen.

They were identified as Wassim Qassem, Omar Sammak, Mahmoud Alloush, Abdallah al-Jundi, Omar Ali al-Sheikh, Mahmoud Ali Akkari, Abdo Hrouq and Itab al-Akleh.

Walid al-Shami and his daughter Yumn were wounded by the fragments of a shell that had exploded beside them in the vegetable market, where a residential apartment was razed in a heavy exchange of gunfire.

Ali al-Bajouri, known as Ali Al-Rai was also wounded by sniper shots in Syria street in Tabbaneh.

Most schools and businesses in Tripoli remained closed.

Seven people have reportedly been killed so far, most by sniper fire, in the latest round of clashes, which began earlier this week.

The clashes intensified Tuesday following the morning car bomb explosion in the Beirut southern suburb of Haret Hreik that killed four people, the latest in a series of attacks in the capital’s suburbs, where Hezbollah enjoys broad support. The bombings have all been claimed by militant Sunni groups that have vowed to take revenge on Hezbollah for its role in Syria.

Tripoli lawmakers, ministers and senior political figures scrambled to contain the violence.

MPs and Tripoli figures met with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati at his residence in the city and agreed on a series of measures aimed at ending the fighting.

The meeting was attended by head of Army Intelligence in the north Brig. Gen. Amer al-Hasan. Sheikhs Salem al-Rafei, Khaled al-Sayyed and Bilal Baroudi were also in attendance at the meeting which was held in the Harba Mosque by figures and sheikhs from Bab al-Tabbaneh.

“We discussed a means to restore normalcy back to the city ... there was an agreement that this is an absurd and futile war,” Mikati told reporters after the meeting.

“We also strongly condemned any attack against the Army in any shape or form,” he added.“Following every round of violence we say that the fighting is over, but the incitement is very intense and should be stopped by restoring trust among the security forces and the residents.”

“We don’t want more rounds [of violence] and we are not holding these meetings so that more fighting can occur. We aim at putting an end to the chaos that is taking place. Security should not be reached by just timely agreements [among politicians],” he stressed.

The participants in the meeting agreed on the need for calm and called on the security forces to exert more efforts to restrain the snipers.

A delegation from the sheikhs then relayed their demands and decisions to Sheikh Salem al-Rafei so that he can relay them in turn to the meeting in Mikati’s residence.

One of the sheikhs who attended the meeting told The Daily Star that there was no sign that the fighting would stop any time soon.

“There are certain parties that want the situation in the region and Tripoli to remain volatile for well-known reasons and they want us to get involved in a confrontation with the Army,” he added.

“The scene is terrifying especially after today’s clashes and we don’t know whether this round will end or not.”

In a statement, Sheikh Khaled al-Sayyed called for calming the situation and refraining from “being dragged by enemies into confrontations that will distract us from the main target. which is the criminal Syrian regime and its allies.”

In a related development, the Traders Association of Northern Lebanon, public and private schools and civil society groups called for a public strike Friday, to begin in the morning and end by noon prayers, to denounce the city’s security situation that has resulted in the death of civilians.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 23, 2014, on page 3.




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