TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Fears of renewed fighting in the northern city of Tripoli persisted Saturday despite a lull following overnight clashes, as residents and activists took to the streets to protest the repeated Syria-linked violence.
A cease-fire called by the city’s lawmakers Friday evening fell on deaf ears as rival fighters in the mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh and mostly Alawite Jabal Mohsen continued to trade rocket-propelled grenades well into the early hours of the morning.
The hostilities subsided at 5 a.m. but intermitted sniper fire could still be heard throughout the day.
The death toll from the 10 days of fighting rose to 26, security sources told The Daily Star, in what is now the 20th round of clashes to plague the city since the beginning of the uprising in Syria three years ago.
One hundred and seventy eight people, including soldiers, have also been wounded since the clashes erupted on March 13.
Despite the lull, sources in the city said there were fears violence could grip the city once more after the planned funeral of Khaled Khalidi, a fighter who was killed in Bab al-Tabbaneh Friday night.
This round of violence has been marked by an increased number of attacks on the Lebanese Army, with 33 soldiers among the wounded.
In a statement, President Michel Sleiman warned against the “orchestrated targeting” of the Army and said the military had instructions “to strike at anyone who carries out any aggression against the Army.”
“Any attack against the military is an attack on a national symbol,” Sleiman said, according to a statement from Baabda Palace.
“We should express solidarity with the Army and support it in its national missions inside the country and across the border,” he also said.
Angered at the situation in Lebanon’s second largest city, Tripoli residents and activists gathered outside the serail, raising banners calling for an end to the repeated violence.
“One hundred and sixty five killed and over 2,000 wounded. Enough: we need a solution,” one of the banners read.
“Who is responsible for wasting the academic year of Tripoli’s students,” another banner read.
The protesters also urged the Lebanese Army to deploy in the entire city.
Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi said in comments to An-Nahar newspaper that a comprehensive three-phase plan was being prepared to restore stability and security in the northern city.
“Efforts have reached a significant stage to stop the rounds of fighting in Tripoli,” Rifi said.
“The solution is three-staged. The first [stage] would see the implementation of a successful security plan that restores stability, the second involves compensating the victims ... and the third would be to launch a development workshop to revive the city’s social and economic situation,” he said.