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Tripoli death toll hits five, no letup in clashes

Smoke rises after gunmen from Jabal Mohsen fired a rocket-propelled grenade during clashes with fighters from Bab al-Tabbaneh in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on March 14, 2014. (AFP PHOTO/IBRAHIM CHALHOUB)

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Armed clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad raged in Tripoli for a second day Friday, bringing the death toll to five, with no signs that a truce would be reached anytime soon.

The fighting, which has left 45 wounded, intensified in the evening, after sporadic gunfire persisted during the day.

Shops located farther away from volatile districts in the city remained open, but classes at most universities and schools were canceled.

Sniper fire rendered inaccessible the road linking Tripoli to Akkar, prompting the Lebanese Army to block the route. Troops patrolledthe volatile neighborhoods and responded to sources of fire.

The army said in a statement that four soldiers were wounded when they came under fire during efforts to contain the clashes. The statement said that a fifth soldier was wounded when gunfire targeted army barracks in the Qibbeh neighborhood of the city.

The military establishment added that it responded to sources of fire, carried out raids and arrested a number of suspects.

The fighting between supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the predominantly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen and rivals in the mainly Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh began Thursday, after Walid Barhoum, a resident of Jabal Mohsen, was shot dead.

The Jabal Mohsen-based Arab Democratic Party said early in the afternoon that a cease-fire agreement had been reached with their rivals in Bab al-Tabbaneh.

ADP spokesman Abdel-Latif Saleh said the party had informed the army of the deal.

“We will discuss with the military ways to guarantee that Jabal Mohsen residents will not be targeted [by gunmen] on their way to work in Tripoli,” Saleh said in a statement.

Saleh lamented that Jabal Mohsen had been “abandoned” by the state, saying that Bab al-Tabbaneh militants were protected from accountability.

“Someone is shot every day and no officials make a move” he said, in reference to attacks on Alawite civilians by Bab al-Tabbaneh militants over the past few weeks.

But a statement by Tripoli MPs, issued after they met at the house of MP Mohammad Kabbara, said that the recent round of violence was an attempt to pressure the Lebanese to accept the resistance clause in the Cabinet’s policy statement, effectively legitimizing Hezbollah’s arsenal.

They expressed their surprise that the violence, the 20th such clashes since 2008, had erupted just when normality was creeping back to the northern city. Violence between the two neighborhoods has intensified since the start of Syria’s civil war in March 2011.

“Attendees reiterate that there is no protection for any violator of law or wanted person. They call on the Internal Security Forces and the Lebanese Army to continue to shoulder its mission with strength and firmness and to put an end to assaults against our people by the gang of Jabal Mohsen,” said the statement, read by Kabbara.

The statement also opposed the targeting of innocent civilians, regardless of their sect.

“We demand that the Justice Council handle the case of the twin bombings of the Al-Taqwa and Al-Salam mosques,” continued the statement, in reference to twin bombings that targeted two mosques in Tripoli last August, killing over 40 people.

Sources on the ground in both Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen told The Daily Star that clashes would likely intensify over the course of Friday night.

Both sources from the rival neighborhoods appeared to agree that the latest clashes were related to the Cabinet’s delay in formulating a policy statement.

Speaking to The Daily Star, ADP official Ali Fodda said his party was committed to calming the situation, but added that the issue was more complicated than mere retaliation over the killing of Walid Barhoum.

“The situation [in Jabal Mohsen] has become tense since the assassination of Abdul Rahman Diab, and the fact that there was no retaliation back then,” he said. Diab, an ADP official, was shot dead in Tripoli by militants in February.

“There is an attempt to eliminate sectarian diversity in Tripoli by powerful forces given local political cover,” concluded Fodda.

Meanwhile, Tripoli-based Sheikh Salem Rafei’s office manager Jalal Kalash was detained at Rafik Hariri International Airport before boarding a plane to Turkey. He was held for questioning and later released.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 15, 2014, on page 2.

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Summary

Armed clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad raged in Tripoli for a second day Friday, bringing the death toll to five, with no signs that a truce would be reached anytime soon.

Sniper fire rendered inaccessible the road linking Tripoli to Akkar, prompting the Lebanese Army to block the route. Troops patrolledthe volatile neighborhoods and responded to sources of fire.

The statement said that a fifth soldier was wounded when gunfire targeted army barracks in the Qibbeh neighborhood of the city.

A statement by Tripoli MPs, issued after they met at the house of MP Mohammad Kabbara, said that the recent round of violence was an attempt to pressure the Lebanese to accept the resistance clause in the Cabinet's policy statement, effectively legitimizing Hezbollah's arsenal.

Both sources from the rival neighborhoods appeared to agree that the latest clashes were related to the Cabinet's delay in formulating a policy statement.


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