TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Residents blocked several roads in north Lebanon Wednesday after news emerged that the health of a militia leader in prison had deteriorated.
A security source told The Daily Star that Ziad Allouki, a former militia commander in the Tripoli neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh, was taken from Roumieh prison to Hayat Hospital overnight after suffering fatigue.
The source said Allouki, who is on a hunger strike, was returned to prison Wednesday morning after receiving all the medical care.
Allouki's sister attributed the deterioration of her brother's health to the hunger strike.
"He began a hunger strike three days ago, which raised his blood pressure and blood sugar that caused him to faint," she told The Daily Star.
She said Ziad and her other brother, Yehya, who is also in prison for involvement in the Tripoli clashes, were the family's only providers.
“I’m a widow with six children. My sister has three kids and there are three unmarried sisters. We depended on Ziad and Yehya,” she complained.
She said Ziad and other prisoners related to the Tripoli clashes went on a hunger strike after officials broke their promise to get them out of jail two weeks after surrendering to authorities.
“Let those who used to fund them and give them money to defend Tripoli now accusing them of being terrorists retract their statements,” Allouki’s sister said. “We will not leave the streets until all [militia commanders] are released."
A crowd of about 300 women and 200 men blocked the Abu Ali roundabout in the early morning to demand Allouki's release. By midday, they had set up two tents in the middle of the highway.
Protests also broke out in Bab al-Tabbaneh, Qibbeh, Maaloula and the old vegetable market after Allouki's family received a phone call from a Roumieh prisoner informing them that their son had been rushed to the hospital after suffering a heart attack at dawn.
A source close to the family told The Daily Star that Allouki’s parents had been notified of their son’s sudden health deterioration through Saad Masri, another militia commander who had fought gunbattles in Tripoli and is held at Roumieh prison.
The protesters are demanding the release of all militia leaders who had turned themselves in to the Lebanese Army with promises they would be released before the holy month of Ramadan.
They slammed the implementation of the security plan for Tripoli as “unbalanced,” pointing out that while three detainees from the rival pro-Syrian regime neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen had been released, authorities were still holding detainees from Bab al-Tabbaneh.
Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi stressed that he would stand by the people of Tripoli.
“We won’t abandon anyone, and we will sacrifice [our souls] for the sake of Tripoli,” he told a local television channel.
Rifi, however, lamented the “uneven” security plan: “One of our conditions was to have a balanced plan but unfortunately it’s not like that.”
Meanwhile, unknown assailants tossed four stun grenades into the Abu Ali River. A similar grenade was thrown near Al-Nasiri Mosque, but no casualties were reported.
Protests intensified during the day, with residents using trucks to block the main highway linking Tripoli to the northern Akkar region as well as the Minieh road and all access to the sea roads.
Masked gunmen also fired their guns into the air during the protest at Abu Ali roundabout to demand the release of Allouki and Masri.
Unlike previous protests, Lebanese troops did not move to reopen the blocked roads. Instead, they diverted traffic as soldiers in two armored personnel carriers – one north and another south of Abu Ali – deployed to prevent any friction between the protesters and passersby.
Protesters prevented a police patrol from crossing Abu Ali roundabout, while others forced some shops in Tripoli’s old wheat and vegetable markets and along Syria Street in Bab al-Tabbaneh to shut down. However, business was normal elsewhere in the city.
Behind-the-scenes negotiations were ongoing in a bid to reopen the roads.