TRIPOLI, Lebanon: At least 12 people were killed and scores more were wounded in fierce clashes Saturday and early Sunday between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the north Lebanon coastal city of Tripoli, security sources said.
The country’s interior minister said late Saturday a security plan was in place to allow the Lebanese Army into the conflict zone following a consensus by all parties to allow the military in.
Saturday’s fatalities included Mahmoud Bahri, his mother Fatima Sheikh, and Khaled al-Rifai, 40, from the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood, which strongly opposes Assad, the sources said.
At least 49 people were also wounded in the fighting that saw heavy gunfire, the use of mortar bombs, and rocket-propelled grenades between Bab al-Tabbaneh on the one hand and the neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, which fervently supports the embattled Syrian leader, they added.
The clashes that erupted at midnight Saturday waxed and waned throughout the day until the late night hours. At around 1 a.m. Sunday, the sound of intensive gunfire, grenades and rocket-propelled grenades could be heard throughout Tripoli with many hospitals on alert for further wounded.
Internal Security Forces Brig. Gen. Bassam Ayyoubi, who chaired a security meeting in the city in the Saturday afternoon, announced that a police force would enter the conflict zone and work toward a cease-fire.
However, hours after the announcement was made, the police had yet to enter the conflict area due to periodic sniper fire and the launching of rocket-propelled grenades, the National News Agency reported.
Security sources also told The Daily Star that the Lebanese Army could not intervene without the approval of all parties on the ground.
One source said the army’s Navy Seals were on standby, in a sign that authorities were keen on putting a decisive end to the violence and restoring order.
In the afternoon, Prime Minister Najib Mikati headed to his home city to follow up on the day’s events, only two weeks after similar clashes in the same area led to the killing of 11 and the wounding of over 100 that prompted several Gulf countries to issue warnings against travel to the country.
A meeting at 9 p.m. headed by Mikati included a number of lawmakers, ministers and figures from the area. Interior Minister Marwan Charbel also attended the meeting, his office said.
Charbel, following a separate meeting with security officials at Tripoli’s serail, announced that there was a consensus by all parties for the Lebanese Army to move in to the conflict area and that a security plan would be implemented starting 5 a.m. Sunday.
He said security forces would respond to all those not abiding by the cease-fire and that anyone targeting the security forces would “be held responsible for the act.”
Before heading to Tripoli, Mikati, in a statement, said one of the main reasons behind the recurrent clashes in his hometown was years of neglect.
“Unfortunately this tension has been going on for years and years and we seek a cease-fire every time it occurs but the problem remains and it is multi-dimensional and one of its main reasons is that the region has been neglected,” Mikati told reporters during a visit to the Bekaa, east Lebanon.
The prime minister also asked security agencies earlier in the day to track down those behind the clashes in the city.
Saturday’s clashes led to extensive material damage.
In the morning, a tailor’s shop in the area caught fire as a result of one rocket attack.
Around the same time, the NNA reported that a house belonging to Abdel-Rahman Hamad was severely damaged after a rocket hit his home in the early hours of the morning.
Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami, who hails from the northern city, called Saturday for an emergency session of Cabinet to “address the farcical and bloody security situation in Tripoli.”
He said the Cabinet should discuss allowing “legitimate security forces to restore order with force, disarm militias in neighborhoods and alleyways and halt all unauthorized political movements that aim at incitement and using Tripoli as an arena for a regional struggle with the Syria crisis as its backdrop.”
Also commenting on Saturday’s clashes, Tripoli MP and Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi said unrest in the city was the result of outside interference.
“The security situation in Tripoli is being manipulated from afar and working according to a schedule that has nothing to do with the residents of Tripoli,” Safadi said, according to the NNA.
“The residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen ... are victims of a demonic game that has been hatched by outside forces and is being implemented by Lebanese tools on Lebanese soil,” he added.
The minister said the only way out of what he described as a “vicious circle” was for the Lebanese Army to take over security.
“They [outside forces] have plunged the city into a vicious circle where every side considers itself a target and feels obliged to defend itself.
“However, the reality is that all [sides], without exception, are being targeted and there is no solution but to allow the army to take over security given that it is the legitimate force that ensures security for all the people, without exception,” Safadi said.
“Tripoli wants security by legitimate [authorities] alone and it has no other program than that of the state,” he added.
The Higher Islamic Council, in a statement Saturday, also voiced extreme concern about the unrest in parts of the country, particularly in Tripoli, and “stressed the need for the Lebanese government, army and Internal Security Forces to safeguard the safety of citizens.”
Gulf countries Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have called on their citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon and for those in the country to depart as a result of the growing number of security incidents.