TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Fighting with assault rifles and grenades between opponents and supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad escalated in the northern city of Tripoli Monday, killing five people and wounding at least 10, security sources said.
The sources said four men died in the mainly pro-Assad neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, while a fifth person was killed near Bab al-Tabbaneh, a mainly by anti-Assad district of the port city. Tension and fear had gripped Tripoli earlier Monday after both political and security efforts failed to maintain a cease-fire along the demarcation lines between the rival neighborhoods.
Armed men on motorcycles were seen on Tripoli’s Azmi Street for the first time since clashes broke out late Saturday evening. Azmi Street is outside the battle zone.
Loudspeakers on mosques in Beddawi, Wadi an-Nahla and Jabal al-Beddawi repeated warnings to tenants living on upper-level floors to evacuate for fear they could be wounded as a result of RPG fire in the area, the National News Agency (NNA) said.
Some schools in north Lebanon did not open due to the fighting.
Gunbattles, which erupted after midnight Saturday, pitted opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh against Assad supporters in the mostly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen. Three people, including a Lebanese Army soldier, were killed in the weekend fighting.
The violence broke out after tension spiked Saturday over the arrest of Shadi Mawlawi.
Mawlawi and five other Lebanese suspects were charged Monday of belonging to an “armed terrorist group ... with the intent to carry out terrorist acts inside and outside of Lebanon.”
Mawlawi was reportedly lured by the General Security – under the pretext that he would receive health care – to an office of Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi’s welfare association in Tripoli.
The arrest of Mawlawi was condemned over the weekend by both Safadi and Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the latter having described the manner in which the detention was carried out as “unacceptable.”
Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani added his voice Monday to those denouncing the detention.
“[Qabbani denounced] the manner and the procedures of the detention,” a statement from Dar al-Fatwa said.
He also urged the state to resolve the issue of Islamists detained without charge in Lebanese prisons, and voiced opposition to the practice.
“Dar al-Fatwa does not accept the detention of people for years without charge [out of concern for] human rights, the dignity of the individual and [so that] their relatives are not harmed.”
Some 300 prisoners were arrested on charges of fighting or aiding fighters during the 2007 armed clashes between the Lebanese Army and the Palestinian militant group Fatah al-Islam in the refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared, in the north of the country.
Relatives of the prisoners have been protesting and demanding the detainees be released or receive a fair and speedy trial.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil ordered hospitals in Tripoli Monday to treat all the wounded from the clashes.
Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri again postponed a planned visit to Tripoli, the Saudi Embassy said in a statement.
Asiri was due to visit Tripoli’s public hospital to check on the well-being of Syrian citizens wounded in the fighting in their country.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Ahmad Assir, a Sunni preacher in the southern city of Sidon, described at a news conference Monday the Tripoli fighting as “very, very serious.”
While he urged an end to the presence of weapons outside the authority of the Lebanese state, Assir also warned against provoking and disparaging the Sunni sect, which would not benefit coexistence.
Tripoli MP Mohammad Kabbara, following a meeting at his residence Monday, said there was a conspiracy aimed at his city “because there is no political decision to end what is occurring and the meeting by the Higher Judicial Council headed by President Michel Sleiman did not [result in] a bona-fide decision to end what is happening.”
The Future Movement lawmaker also called on Prime Minister Najib Mikati to resign over the affair.
The NNA reported that Akkar MP Mouin Merhebi had earlier pulled out of the meeting at Kabbara’s residence and accused the Lebanese Army of not implementing the decisions by the Higher Defense Council and held the body responsible for any “drop of blood that is spilled or a life that is lost because of reticence to enter the area of clashes.”
In light of the clashes, the Higher Defense Council convened an emergency session Sunday under President Michel Sleiman, highlighting its keeness to protect civil peace.
“The council discussed the security situation in the country in general and in the city of Tripoli in particular,” the council said after its meeting in Baabda Palace.
“The council praised the role played by security bodies to restore security, arrest [members of] terrorist networks ... [and] prevent arms-smuggling from all Lebanese areas,” added the statement. The council gave instructions to the Army and security bodies and distributed tasks to relevant ministries and bodies. It kept its decisions confidential, as allowed under the law.