Lebanon News

Salam pledges to restore order in Tripoli

A Lebanese army military post is pictured empty as soldiers hide from snipers at the Sunni Muslim Bab al-Tebbaneh neighbourhood in Tripoli, northern Lebanon March 18, 2014. (REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim)

TRIPOLI/BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam pledged to work on a comprehensive plan to rehabilitate Tripoli, as the death toll from the latest bout of violence rose to 17 and the Lebanese Army came under repeated attack by militants in the city.

Salam held a meeting at the Grand Serail in Beirut Tuesday with Tripoli’s lawmakers, including former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, to discuss ways to restore stability in the city after what he described as “random acts of violence.”

The aim of the plan is to “put an end to the security chaos and the economic and social decline,” Salam said in a statement.

Salam said the delegates proposed a “comprehensive” security, economic and growth strategy that covers Tripoli and the poorer areas in the north of the country.

“I reaffirm that the government will, after gaining the confidence of Parliament, follow this request seriously in order to give Tripoli back its position, and relieve it of injustice and neglect,” he said.

Cautious calm pervaded the city, disturbed by occasional sniper fire and clashes in the sixth day of violence since fighting re-erupted Thursday. Gunmen used light- and medium-caliber weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles.

Two civilians, identified as Rima Mahaliqi and Ali Hussein Abdallah, died in fighting Tuesday.

Abdallah and two Lebanese soldiers were wounded during an exchange of gunfire between gunmen and the armed forces, security sources said, adding that Abdallah was near an Army post in Tripoli’s vegetable market when gunmen engaged soldiers in a firefight.

A hand grenade was also tossed at the Army post during the midday clash, the sources said.

Earlier in the day, gunmen traded gunfire with soldiers at Talaat al-Omari. No casualties were reported from the 10 a.m. flare-up.

During the skirmish with assault rifles, gunmen fired three rocket-propelled grenades toward an Army post in Talaat al-Omari, but missed the target, the sources added.

The Lebanese Army had come under repeated attacks during the previous night.

The sources said gunmen lobbed several stun grenades at Army posts in the Tripoli neighborhoods of Ghorabaa, Beddawi and Mankoubeen between 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Monday.

An Army position on Syria Street also came under a similar attack. No casualties were reported.

Syria Street separates the warring Tripoli neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen, a predominantly Alawite area that supports Syrian President Bashar Assad, and mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh, which backs the Syrian uprising.

Soldiers deployed in the warring neighborhoods in December in an effort to end more than a dozen rounds of fighting between pro- and anti-Assad gunmen linked to the crisis in next-door Syria.

The two sides have been in on-again, off-again conflict since the 1980s, but the 3-year-old war in Syria between Assad, an Alawite, and the majority Sunni rebels has opened old wounds in Tripoli with recurrent bouts of gun battles.

Scores of fighters, Sunnis among them, have been arrested by the Army as it pursues a six-month mandate to end bloodshed in Tripoli.

Sunnis, however, accuse the military of targeting them while turning a blind eye to Alawites.

The nighttime hostilities kept thousands of students at home for a sixth day as schools and universities remained closed.

Both sides blamed each other for sparking the latest round of conflict.

Ziad Allouki, a militia leader in Bab al-Tabbaneh, claimed the Alawite Arab Democratic Party and Army officers had fired at his neighborhood in order to ignite a confrontation with the military.

He blamed two Alawites for the grenade attack against the Army in Ghorabaa. An ADP spokesman said that no Alawites were involved in the attack.

The Army continued to patrol different neighborhoods in the city.

A group of victims of the violence in Jabal Mohsen issued a statement demanding a role in any cease-fire agreement in the city.

Tripoli Mufti Malek Shaar warned of the fallout of the violence in Syria on the city and Lebanon as a whole, as well as the challenges of providing for Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile, groups of youth from Tripoli launched a movement called “Trivolution” that rejects what they described as “pointless” violence that grips their city.

Omar Sayyed, a member of the movement, said that the activists had called on store owners in the city to go on strike in protest over the clashes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 19, 2014, on page 3.




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