TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Three people were killed and at least 18 wounded in renewed clashes Thursday between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Tripoli, as the Army pledged to respond “decisively” to gunfire irrespective of the source.
The National News Agency reported that Yahya Thulayji, from the neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh, was killed in sniper fire, while security sources indicated that two other individuals had fallen victim to the violence.
Armed clashes intensified at night between residents of the mainly anti-Assad Bab al-Tabbaneh and those in neighboring Jabal Mohsen whose residents are staunch backers of the Syrian leader. Sniping made the road connecting Tripoli to Akkar inaccessible.
The violence broke the tenuous calm that was enforced by the Army, which imposed tight security measures on the two districts throughout the day. The Army also said it had arrested Jihad Dandashi, a key suspect involved in a shootout at a public hospital in the city the day before.
The shootout at a public hospital in the Qibbeh neighborhood of Tripoli left one person dead and 10 people wounded, including two Army soldiers.
The clashes came hours after Syria released a Lebanese Islamist arrested late last year after illegally entering Syria to fight alongside the rebels.
Speaking to Syrian State TV shortly before he was freed, Hasan Sroor claimed a Lebanese Salafist sheikh had sent him to fight the Syrian army but upon arriving in Lebanon, Sroor recanted his confession.
General Security said Sroor was handed over after intense consultations between Lebanese and Syrian officials.
In footage broadcast on Syria’s state-run television station, Sroor said he had been brainwashed while in Tripoli and received military training by Islamist groups.
“When I was in Bab al-Tabbaneh, they used to show us videos of the Syrian army killing children and raping women, but while I was here I saw that it wasn’t them,” Sroor told reporters.
He added that his group had been dispatched to “fight in Syria” by Sheikh Dai al-Islam al-Shahhal, a Tripoli-based Salafist preacher. “Thank God I’ve been released,” he added.
Shahhal swiftly denied the released Islamist’s claims and said that “the Syrian regime forced Sroor to say this.”
Sroor received a hero’s welcome in Bab al-Tabbaneh, where residents fired celebratory gunfire in the air. Also receiving him was Sidon-based Sheikh Ahmad Assir.
Nearly 10 fighters from Tripoli were killed in the December 2012 ambush by the Syrian army in Tal Kalakh near the border with Lebanon. The bodies of the 10 men were returned to Lebanon by Syria in three installments weeks later.
For his part, the head of the Alawite Islamic Council, Sheikh Assad Assi, warned against the escalating violence targeting Jabal Mohsen, saying that the Alawite sect would defend itself if authorities failed to do so.
“Strife has been rekindled ... I call on the president, prime minister and speaker, ministers, Army commander and [head of the Internal Security Forces] Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi to be responsible toward members of this sect,” Assi said in a news conference in Jabal Mohsen.
“Tripoli is the city of goodness, and we stand by the side of Sunnis and honorable Salafists ... but a minority of takfiris have come to this country calling for the slaughtering of Alawite children and the raping and killing of Alawite women,” he added, referring to Islamists who support killing those who aren’t sufficiently religious.
Assi said the minority Alawite community would support the Lebanese Army as long as it protects all sects.