TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Thursday that the Lebanese Army has been given the “green light” to restore order in the northern city of Tripoli after three days of clashes left at least 12 dead and 70 wounded, including 11 soldiers.
Mikati, who chaired a meeting of political, religious and security officials at his Tripoli residence, told reporters that “things are moving in the right direction ... and the Lebanese Army has the necessary political cover from all parties.”
The premier described the situation in the city as “relatively stable.”
A statement released after the meeting, attended by Tripoli Mufti Sheikh Malek al-Shaar, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and a number of lawmakers from the city, urged the Army to take all the necessary measures to put a stop to the violence and arrest militants.
The meeting’s attendees also encouraged judicial authorities to issue arrest warrants against violators, and asked the Higher Relief Committee to compensate residents for the loss of lives and property.
It was agreed that Shaar would launch an initiative in the near future to bring together all parties in the city and complete reconciliation efforts that started in 2009.
But gunfire could be heard near the area of Al-Malouleh in the neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh a few hours after the meeting and sporadic sniper fire left one man dead, violating a shaky truce aimed at putting an end to the violence.
Mohammad Sulteye was gunned down in Jabal Mohsen.
Although a tenuous calm had prevailed in rival neighborhoods of the anti-Assad, Sunni dominant Bab al-Tabbaneh district and the pro-Assad Alawite area of Jabal Mohsen, periodic gunshots coupled with sniper fire came as no surprise, especially as some groups in Bab al-Tabbaneh had not agreed to the cease-fire.
In a bid to resolve the crisis in the city, political and security officials met at Future Movement lawmaker Mohammad Kabbara’s residence Wednesday and orchestrated a truce agreed to by leaders from Jabal Mohsen that went into effect at 5:30 p.m.
The officials also called on the Lebanese Army to deploy in all conflict zones. Army units strengthened their presence along Syria Street, with a symbolic presence in both neighborhoods.
Mikati said Thursday Kabbara had coordinated with him on the series of meetings that were held at the Future lawmaker’s residence earlier this week.
Meanwhile Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn defended the Army’s performance, saying the military is doing its best given its minimal resources.
“The Tripoli problem between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen in particular is chronic and only needed a few issues for it to reignite, but the Army is trying to control the situation according to the available capabilities,” Ghosn told a local radio station.
The minister also warned that if the fighting continued, all of Lebanon would be affected.
Residents of the area returned to their neighborhoods Thursday, taking advantage of the precarious cease-fire to inspect the damage to their homes and businesses.
Hundreds of soldiers with tanks and military vehicles were deployed on Syria Street, which is the dividing line between the two districts and the front line when fighting erupts.
“My family moved in with my sister, and I came to see what had been damaged,” said Walid Zoabi, a 52-year-old Sunni man who works for a currency exchange, as he went to inspect his home in Bab al-Tabbaneh.
“But I won’t be moving back home until the Army deploys fully, because I don’t feel safe yet,” said Zoabi. “I have left home 12 times since 2008 because of the clashes.”
On the same street, Zeina al-Masri, 55, said she returned to collect clothes and important documents. “I can’t come back home in the current situation, so I will move in with my husband’s family in Akkar [north of Tripoli],” said the mother of five.
Buildings in the neighborhoods were riddled with bullets, shops were closed, electricity cables hung down between households, water poured out from damaged pipes and the Army laid tires around unexploded munitions.
Lebanon’s Sunni communities largely oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad, while the Alawites back his regime. The port city of Tripoli and the capital Beirut have seen increasing violence since the Syrian conflict erupted 17 months ago.
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt said Thursday, “It is time for the warring sides in Tripoli to realize that they have no effect whatsoever on the events in Syria.”
“What is the fault of the poor and innocent people in Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh? Why do they have to pay for bigger conflicts in which they have no stake?” he asked, calling on all parties to stop “funding and supporting violence” and instead to try to sort out their differences peacefully.
Jumblatt added that the only way to put an end to violence in Tripoli was through supporting the Lebanese Army in its efforts to clamp down against all forms of militancy in the city. – with AFP