TRIPOLI, Lebanon: A sit-in by Tripoli residents urging the release of relatives detained over involvement in clashes was dismantled overnight Sunday after promises from officials that the men will be released soon.
Families of militiamen who took part in deadly clashes over the Syrian crisis between the mostly Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh and its Alawite counterpart Jabal Mohsen announced they will suspend their demonstration until Thursday morning.
In parallel, the militiamen currently detained in the Roumieh prison complex also announced their intention to put on hold their hunger strike until Sunday.
“After the sit-in on the Abu Ali roundabout was suspended following a promise that a group from our brothers will be released Thursday; we here in Roumieh announce the suspension of our hunger strike pending developments,” they said in a statement broadcast over a chat app for smart phones.
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.
The Lebanese Army had 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.
But in light of the fresh promises, families made the decision to temporarily dismantle their sit-in.
Bulldozers from the municipality of Tripoli were seen working until the early morning hours on Sunday to clear the vital route.
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.
But Friday, Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghayda requested the death penalty Friday for the fugitive Rifaat Ali Eid, head of the Arab Democratic Party’s politburo, and five fighters from Jabal Mohsen, Tripoli.
Judicial sources declined to name the other four suspects, all of whom are in custody, but added that three are considered militia leaders. Eid has been at large since April but many believe he has taken refuge in Syria.
The five stand accused of killing, participating in clashes with Jabal Mohsen’s rival area, Bab al-Tabbaneh, terrorist acts, terrorizing the public and destroying property.
On Saturday, Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi urged Tripoli residents to show self-restraint, arguing that political groups were manipulating the protests in order to immerse the northern city in a ring of violence.
He promised that those detained would not be forgotten. “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.
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, linked to the civil war in Syria.