TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Sixteen suspected militants were arrested across north Lebanon Wednesday in widespread Army raids in Tripoli and areas to the north and east of the city in search of fugitive militants, the military said.
Troops raided suspected militant hideouts in Tripoli’s neighborhood of Abi Samra, arresting eight people, including three Syrians, and confiscated three automatic rifles, a rocket-propelled grenade and 10 hand grenades, in addition to ammunition and military gear, an Army statement said.
Similar raids were carried out on Syrian refugee gatherings in the area of Minyeh, during which eight people were apprehended on suspicion of having links to terrorist groups, it added.
Earlier Wednesday, the Army raided an apartment in Abi Samra which was occupied by fundamentalist preacher Sheikh Khaled Hablas, confiscating a computer, security sources told the Daily Star.
By midday, the Army arrested one of Hablas' supporters, identified by his last name Khalaf.
The Army said in a separate statement Wednesday that three gunmen had turned themselves in.
It said that "during massive raids in search for fugitive terrorists, Nasser al-Bahsa, Azzam Taleb and Salah Abdul-Hai surrendered to the Lebanese Army in north Lebanon for taking up arms and engaging with other [militants] in a clash against the Amy in and around Bhenin.”
The Army issued a strongly worded statement Monday warning militants to hand themselves over, or be hunted down.
Hablas, who was previously seen as a low-key figure, preaches at Haroun Mosque in his hometown of Bhenin in the district of Minyeh, north of Tripoli. He is also an outspoken opponent of the military.
The Army has also been carrying out raids since early morning over a large perimeter stretching between Abi Samra and Dahr al-Ain, including Wadi Haab in the region of Koura.
Helicopter gunships backed ground troops as they searched for the runaway militants involved in the four-day fighting in Tripoli last week that killed 42 people, including 11 soldiers and eight civilians.
Soldiers redeployed heavily in Abi Samra and Zaytoun, conducting patrols and setting up fixed and roving checkpoints on the roads leading to the battered neighborhoods.
About 200 suspects have been arrested since the fighting erupted on Friday.
In the meantime, schools and universities in the city reopened after several days of forced closure.
Residents displaced by the fighting continued to return gradually to Tripoli's battered Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood, where much of the fighting was centered.
Local sources said that some residents returned to check on their belongings, amid calls for government assistance to help them repair damaged property.
Dozens of shops and businesses remained closed Wednesday, with some parts of the neighborhood in complete ruins.