BEIRUT: Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi urged Tripoli residents to show self-restraint Saturday, arguing that political groups were manipulating the protests in order to immerse the northern city in a ring of violence.
The Lebanese Army issued an ultimatum Saturday, warning Bab al-Tabbaneh residents that if they did not open the roads by 5 p.m., it would have to do so by force.
Residents have carried out protests throughout the week, blocking roads leading to the Abu Ali roundabout with rocks, trashcans and tires, urging the release of relatives detained over involvement in Tripoli clashes.
“I call on protesters to open the roads. Their message has been delivered, and we are still following up on the cases of the detained. ... We have appointed a number of lawyers to follow up on their files and stand by them with all means necessary,” Rifi said, referring to Tripoli residents detained over clashes between the Sunni-dominated Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood and the Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighborhood over the crisis in Syria.
Rifi condemned blocking roads during protests, saying that local political and security forces had manipulated the just cause protesters were rallying for to settle personal political scores.
“The citizens of Tripoli, from different social, political and economic communities, pay the price [of this manipulation],” he said.
The justice minister urged residents not to fall prey to groups attempting to bring the northern city back to a state of violence, saying that such groups were “putting [residents] in a situation that does not benefit the residents' interests.”
Bab al-Tabbaneh residents have protested what they say are the arbitrary detentions targeting the Sunni community, saying security forces are discriminating against their community and treating them differently than their Alawite neighbors in Jabal Mohsen.
Clashes erupted between protesters in Sunni-dominated Bab al-Tabbaneh and the Lebanese Army earlier Saturday, after security forces tried to open roads leading to the Abu Ali roundabout.
The Army was not able to open the roads, as relatives of the detained continued in their third day of protests.
A security source told the Daily Star that clashes had ended and protesters mobilized around Souk al- Arid in Tripoli in the afternoon.
On April 1, the Lebanese Army launched a security plan in the northern city, which resulted in the arrest of dozens of gunmen and militia commanders from both Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods. The security crackdown largely brought calm to Tripoli, which had witnessed numerous rounds of violence over the last several years, links to the civil war in Syria.