TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Armed clashes in Tripoli between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad have left 17 people dead since they began Tuesday, with no end to the violence in sight.
Fears of the continuation of violence mounted Sunday when an Army unit stationed on Syria Street was hit with a hand grenade wounding two soldiers and one local resident, the military said.
Meanwhile, a rocket-propelled grenade hit a school between Jabal Mohsen and Al-Qibbeh, causing material damage. No causalities were reported.
Many residents of the city fled their homes and hid in shelters after a message spread via social media said Tripoli would face heavy shelling Sunday night.
But sources in the Arab Democratic Party told The Daily Star that they are only defending themselves, denying that it would shell Tripoli.
“When we are hit, we respond. We are only defending ourselves,” one source inside the party, led by Rifaat Eid, said.
In a bid to contain the crisis in Tripoli, Lebanon's Higher Defense Council discussed Sunday the situation in the city, which has witnessed several rounds of fighting since the uprising in Syria began.
In a statement released after the meeting, chaired by President Michel Sleiman, the council said it “discussed the security situation, particularly in Tripoli, and was informed of the Army's measures there from its commander."
"[The council] gave the Army the necessary directives and distributed tasks to security agencies and the ministers as the decisions by the council remained classified," the statement said.
Maronite Cardinal Beshara Rai urged Tripoli residents to end the violence, asking security forces to restore order.
"I urge the residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen to stop this cycle of fighting, sniping and killing in order to reach reconciliation and understanding,” Rai said during his Sunday sermon in Bkirki.
"We look to the Army and security agencies to restore security and stability,” he added.
He also said that Tripoli figures and civil society groups should act as negotiators and save the city which Rai described as "a historical site of coexistence."
Residents of Tripoli reported Sunday heavy fighting overnight that forced many to flee, as the streets of both rival neighborhoods in Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen were left deserted.
Seventeen people have been killed, mostly by sniper fire, and at least 77 have been wounded since the clashes erupted after news that some 21 Lebanese fighters from the city were killed in Syria.
Reports surfaced two weeks ago that Lebanese Islamist fighters were killed in an ambush by regime forces as they entered Syria through the town of Tal Kalakh.
Syrian state television broadcast images last Sunday of more than five dead bodies with Lebanese identification, saying they were among the men.
Syria handed over Sunday three bodies of the Lebanese fighters to their relatives in a bid to ease tensions.