TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Three people including two soldiers were wounded in a shootout at a government hospital in Tripoli Wednesday, the Army said, adding to the already simmering tensions in the northern city.
Witnesses, however, said two people from Jabal Mohsen were wounded and one from Tripoli's Riva neighborhood suffered gunshot wounds during the brief clash at the state hospital in Al-Qibbeh.
The Army reported that two soldiers were wounded when gunmen fired shots in their direction at Al-Qibbeh.
“Gunmen at Al-Qibbeh fired shots using light weaponry in the direction of a soldier as he was admitting his brother to the government hospital, wounding the two [soldiers] and lightly wounding a civilian," the military’s statement said.
Following the incident, residents of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh exchanged fire, the Army added, prompting soldiers to raid the location of gunmen and arrest a number of suspects.
The military patrolled the streets and soldiers setup several checkpoints, the statement said.
However, Jihad Dandashi, a prominent figure from Riva, said one of his colleagues was wounded after a group of people from Jabal Mohsen allegedly fired shots in their direction at the medical establishment.
Dandashi said the incident occurred while he and a group of friends were visiting a patient at the hospital.
"We were visiting one of our guys who was suffering from burn [wounds] who [was admitted to the hospital] days ago. That’s when the men from the Jabal entered," Dandashi told The Daily Star.
"Upon seeing us, they fired shots and one of our young men, Rabee Hafezah, was wounded.”
He added that his group was forced to respond in self-defense.
An official with the Arab Democratic Party had a different version of the story.
Abdul-Latif Saleh, the spokesman for Jabal Mohsen's Arab Democratic Party, described the incident as one in which two men from Jabal Mohsen were shot at and wounded by a group from Riva and several Salafists at the hospital.
He said the two wounded men had been with a soldier they had transferred to the hospital for treatment.
"A Lebanese Army sergeant by the name of Taher Mohsen Shdeed suffered a sudden ailment and was transferred to the hospital,” Saleh said.
“Those who transferred him were surprised to see a group from Riva and Salafists entering the hospital and shooting at Youssef Mohsen Shdeed, who was wounded in his stomach ... and Mahdi Shdeed who was shot in his leg in front of soldiers,” he added.
One of the wounded was transferred to a hospital in Zghorta.
Saleh also said that prior to the shooting, a shell had landed near Al-Manar Pharmacy in Jabal Mohsen.
He claimed that masked gunmen had set up checkpoints around the neighborhood and started asking drivers for their identification documents and which sect they belonged to.
“We then immediately blocked the main entrance to the Jabal in protest over what the residents of the Alawite sect are facing,” Saleh added.
Since the uprising in Syria began two years ago, Tripoli has witnessed recurrent fighting between supporters of Assad in the predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighborhood and his opponents in the adjacent, mainly Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh.
Rifaat Eid, the head of the ADP, said Wednesday that an increasing number of attacks were being directed at members of his Alawite sect and warned that his group would retaliate fiercely if their Jabal Mohsen stronghold was targeted.
Dandash said Wednesday his group would have responded to what Eid said if they had the intention to “begin a battle with them,” but said that they were exercising self-restraint.
"The situation is very critical and we hope we don't reach that [stage],” he said.
The ADP official, for his part, expressed hope that officials could resolve the situation before the two rival groups resorted to “tit-for-tat abductions.”