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Intense fighting in n. Lebanon claims more lives

A Lebanese Sunni gunman aims his rifle during clashes between the Sunni Muslim Bab al-Tabbaneh and Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighbourhood in Al- Koubbeh, in Tripoli, March 22, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Intense fighting over a period of three days in the northern city of Tripoli has claimed the lives of 12 people, security sources said Sunday, as the Lebanese Army continued its drive to end the deadly clashes between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad.

The sources said most of the fatalities, including a Lebanese solider, were the result of sniper fire, adding that some 25 others were wounded.

Saturday night saw intense clashes between the rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, ending a tenuous cease-fire put in place a day earlier.

The fighting between Bab al-Tabbaneh, a neighborhood with a majority Sunni population that supports the Syrian uprising, and Jabal Mohsen, where Lebanon’s Alawite community resides, tapered off in the early hours of Sunday.

At around 9 p.m. Saturday, the Lebanese Army carried out several raids in the two neighborhoods, as part of their plan to clear the streets of gunmen.

While not apprehending any of the combatants, soldiers did confiscate large quantities of weapons used in the battles, including rocket-propelled grenades and machineguns.

Clashes between the two sides renewed at around midnight and continued for a period of two hours before tapering off.

Residents said the situation in the city was dire.

“People here are living in tragic circumstances,” one resident told The Daily Star Sunday.

“My 12-year-old daughter could not sleep all night because of the sound of gunfire,” the father said.

The once bustling streets of Downtown Tripoli were deserted Sunday morning with the sound of intermittent sniper fire keeping many residents away from shops and public places.

Despite the tension in city, Christian families celebrated Palm Sunday at ceremonies held in different churches throughout the city, amid a heavy security presence.

Residents who spoke to The Daily Star voiced particular alarm over the violence on the previous day, saying that unlike previous rounds of clashes, Salafist militants had joined fighters in Bab al-Tabbaneh.

They linked the appearance of Salafist fighters to the recent fallout in Cabinet over extending the term of police chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, who hails from the city and retires on April 1.

Lebanon was without a government Saturday after President Michel Sleiman accepted the resignation of the Cabinet.

Now caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, who also hails from Tripoli, said his decision to quit came after ministers failed to pass Rifi’s extension and the formation of an elections supervisory committee.

Meanwhile, the Army vowed to apprehend the “killers” of the slain soldier, Hassan Diab.

His funeral was held Sunday in his hometown in south Lebanon.

Reading a statement on behalf of Army head Gen. Jean Kahwagi during the procession, Col. Adnan Ezzeddine said the Army “would not rest until it captures the criminal killers and bring them to justice.”

“[Hassan’s] martyrdom was for the sake of every citizen in these difficult circumstances that the nation is going through,” he said.

Ezzeddine, quoting Kahwagi, also called on the Lebanese to remain committed to the culture of openness and coexistence.

Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, who visited Tripoli Saturday, warned that the situation in the northern city was dire and urged Parliament to take steps to help curb the violence there.

“There are some who want trouble in Lebanon, some media being among them, but there is something more important and what is happening in Tripoli is [grave] and is linked to regional [developments],” he said, in a reference to the conflict in Syria.

“We hope there will be a genuine understanding. I have faith in Speaker Nabih Berri and urge him to convene a session of Parliament to sign a pact that has the headline ‘Security in Lebanon’, particularly in Tripoli,” he added.

Residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen have been fighting on and off since 2008. However, tensions and clashes between both the sides have increased in frequency and intensity since the Syrian uprising began in 2011.

 

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