Lebanon News

Tripoli leaders seek calm after death toll hits 11

Residents run from sniper fire in the Sunni Muslim Bab al-Tebbaneh neighbourhood in Tripoli March 16, 2014. (REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim)

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Fighting subsided in the northern city of Tripoli Sunday after overnight clashes between pro- and anti-Assad fighters killed two people, including a soldier, and raised the death toll to 11 since violence erupted last Thursday.

A clinic in the city’s Gharbaa neighborhood was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade fired from the neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, with the sound of sporadic sniper fire, machine guns and RPGs piercing the city.

A gathering of the city’s senior political leaders and religious figures called for an immediate ceasefire and stressed the need to avoid direct clashes between the army and local residents.

“All of Tripoli wants to live in peace and security within the state, but with justice, balance and equality among all, and rejects putting the city’s sons in a confrontation with the Army and security forces,” said a statement issued by the group, which met at the home of MP Mohammad Kabbara.

The group condemned the attack against the Army, and called for apprehending all criminals including those responsible for two deadly car bombs last summer in the city.

Although activity returned to Lebanon’s embattled northern capital Sunday morning, residents remained alert for any change in the precarious situation here that has been rocked by several rounds of clashes between rival fighters in the majority-Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh and the predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods.

Many residents avoided inner city roads altogether, opting instead for side roads in the Mina area as well as the coastal highway.

The city had been on a knife’s edge the previous night.

Mohammad Nhayleh, a man accused of firing an RPG at the military in the last round of clashes in the city, was killed in the Starco area of Bab al-Tabbaneh.

The Army also lost one of its own when gunmen opened fire on a military transport.

Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi called for a “transparent” investigation into Nhayleh’s death and the ensuing violence, stressing in contacts with prominent residents in Bab al-Tabbaneh and military intelligence the need to avoid strife between the army and the city’s residents.

“The people of Tripoli in general and [Bab al-]Tabbaneh in particular are under the law and their only demand is justice and implementing the law equally on everyone,” Rifi said in a statement.

In a terse statement Saturday, the Army said unidentified gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a military transport in Maaloula, leading to the death of a soldier.

The Army identified the soldier Sunday as Fadi Sakaan, a father of three. A security source said that several soldiers were also wounded in the incident.

A funeral service was held for Sakaan in his home village in Rashaya, attended by Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi.

“The blood of the martyrs is a debt and will increase our faith, cohesion and determination to uproot strife and criminality from the nation,” said Col. Ali Haidar, who spoke at the funeral on behalf of the defense minister.

Earlier in the day, a sniper shot and killed Abdullah Keserwani while the man was passing under the Maaloula Bridge, a security source said. Several other people wounded in the clashes have also died, the sources added.

The latest victims of the violence raised the death toll since fighting erupted last week to 11. At least 63 people have also been wounded in the clashes.

Militants from Bab al-Tabbaneh, which is known for its support for the Syrian opposition, have engaged in multiple rounds of fighting with Alawite fighters from Jabal Mohsen, which has strong links to the Syrian regime.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 17, 2014, on page 3.




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