BEIRUT: Clashes between supporters and detractors of Syrian President Bashar Assad flared up once more Wednesday in Tripoli, as the death toll in the north Lebanese port city rose to six.
Security sources said Khodr Hanoun, Mehdi Khodr and Ali Hadabah were identified as the latest fatalities of the fighting between the neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen, which strongly supports Assad, and Bab al-Tabbaneh, where residents oppose the embattled Syrian leader.
Hanoun, according to the sources, died from wounds in a local hospital at dawn. Khodr, 18, was killed by sniper fire, the sources added.
The sources said the number of wounded from the fighting also rose to 56.
Schools were closed Wednesday but some shops opened despite the frequent sound of sniping from the tense neighborhoods, where intermittent sniper fire could still be heard.
The clashes in Tripoli began Tuesday morning, in the seventh round of fighting to erupt between the two neighborhoods since the uprising against Assad gripped Lebanon’s neighbor.
Tensions had already been running high in Tripoli over reports that a group of Salafist fighters from the city had been killed in an ambush in the Syrian town of Tal Kalakh by the military there.
The National News Agency reported Wednesday that Syria's Ambassador Ali Abdel-Karim Ali expressed to Lebanon’s foreign minister Damascus’ willingness to return the bodies of the Lebanese fighters, adding that a meeting would be held to decide the needed measures and mechanism for the hand-over.
Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour issued the request for retrieving the bodies Tuesday.
There are conflicting reports on the exact number of dead and the circulation Tuesday of alleged photos and videos of mutilated bodies of the dead further exacerbated the situation in Tripoli, where the fighters are from.
Syrian state television broadcast images Sunday of more than five dead bodies shown with Lebanese identification documents and reported that the men were among 21 Lebanese Salafist fighters who fell into a Syrian Army ambush last Friday.
The Lebanese Army, which stepped up its presence in Tripoli, has vowed to respond to sources of gunfire from any side.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who departed to Italy late Tuesday on an official visit, has urged residents of Tripoli, his home city, to stay calm and be wary of rumors and attempts to stoke tension and spread violence elsewhere in the city.
Meanwhile, Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami described the situation in his hometown as critical, saying the situation was bound to explode at any time.
"The situation is very critical and dangerous but expected given the incitement and arming [of people],” Karami said, adding: “The situation was bound to explode and it did in Tripoli.”
His remarks came after he met with Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani in Beirut.
Karami also voiced confidence in the security forces in the north and the leadership of the Army to respond to the shooters.
Efforts by local officials to end the violence appear to have failed so far.
MP Mohammad Kabbara, who spoke after a meeting of religious, political and security officials at his residence in the city, said those who participated in the talks agreed on the need to end hostilities between rival groups.
“The attendees affirmed the need for halting all armed practices and emphasized the security agencies' role in doing whatever it takes for a return to normalcy,” Kabbara, reading a statement, said.