TRIPOLI: Fighting between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the northern city of Tripoli intensified Friday, with no end in sight to the violence that has increasingly targeted Lebanese soldiers.
The death toll from the nine-day clashes between the predominantly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh and the mainly Alawite Jabal Mohsen district rose to 24 with 160 people wounded so far, security sources said.
Two people were killed by sniper fire Friday as three others succumbed to wounds sustained earlier this week.
The Army said four soldiers were wounded when the military responded to sources of fire, bringing the total number of wounded soldiers to 33 since the clashes began on March 13.
The Army announced it had carried out raids in Al-Qibbeh, Hariri project, Al-Amrikan Street, Al-Biqar and Al-Riva streets, confiscating a number of light and heavy weapons as well as military gear.
Earlier in the day, a roadside bomb hit a military patrol unit in the Bahsas neighborhood, damaging a number of vehicles, the Army said in another statement.
A military expert estimated that the makeshift bomb contained 1,700 grams of explosives and was placed inside a dumpster, a security source said.
Fighting intensified after midnight Thursday as the warring sides traded mortar bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and B-10 recoilless rifles.
One B-10 rocket hit Street 33, which is famous for its restaurants, causing material damage only.
The sound of explosions rocked many parts of the city before fighting eased around 8 a.m. But sniper fire continued to reverberate across Tripoli.
An RPG struck the residence of Mahmoud Qeys in the Beddawi Refugee camp, causing material damage, while another person was wounded by sniper fire inside his house.
This is the 20th round of fighting between the rival neighborhoods since the uprising in Syria began in March of 2011.
In a bid to curb the cycle of violence in the city, the government decided in December to place Tripoli under the command of the Army for a period of six months, but the plan was undermined by two rounds of fighting this year.
Schools and universities remained closed for a ninth day as students voiced fears over the forced closure.
"They [gunmen] have made us lose a whole [school] year," complained Nour Sharif, a senior at the private Rawdat al-Faihaa school.
She also expressed frustration at the schools' handling of the security situation, saying the administration sends text messages informing students that classes are open but that their safety is their responsibility.
Meanwhile, the head of the Merchants' Association in Tripoli, Asaad Hariri, warned that residents will take matters into their own hands should the fighting persist.
"It the government continues to abandon its role [in ending the clashes], we will call for civil disobedience in one week," Hariri told The Daily Star.
"We will stop paying water, electricity and telephone bills because the [poor economic] conditions in Tripoli are no longer bearable," he added.
U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly condemned the violence in Tripoli, after a meeting with Prime Minister Tammam Salam Friday.
“We have all been deeply disturbed by the ongoing violence in Tripoli, by the repeated and totally unacceptable violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty along Lebanon’s northern and eastern borders with Syria and by the consequent loss of life,” he said in a statement.