TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Fighting intensified Thursday between opponents and supporters of President Bashar Assad in a north Lebanon city as sniper shots left people ducking for cover in downtown Tripoli.
The Lebanese Army informed politicians that it cannot move ahead without the necessary political cover, security sources told The Daily Star, as fears grew that the clashes might take over the whole city.
Frantic residents ran from the crowded Boulevard Fouad Shehab area after several shots believed to be from snipers were fired.
Sniper fire increased in the Zahriyah district close to the downtown of Lebanon’s second largest city.
The military strengthened its presence in the Abdel-Hamid Karami Sqaure after rumors surfaced that the Syrian Social Nationalist Party headquarters was a target.
An investigation into events in Tripoli was launched Thursday under the supervision of Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr. The probe aims at revealing and prosecuting those involved in the clashes and who fired in the direction of the Army.
Fighters exchanged rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire in Tripoli for a third day while rockets fired from Syria landed in nearby Lebanese border towns.
Security sources told The Daily Star Thursday that the death toll rose to eight from the fighting between the neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen, whose residents largely support Assad, and Bab al-Tabbaneh, where residents oppose the embattled Syrian leader.
The latest fatalities were identified as Mehdi al-Beik, from Minyeh, and Hasan Abido, from Jabal Mohsen.
The sources said a total of 65 people have been wounded in the clashes which erupted earlier this week, the latest bout of repeated violence since the uprising in neighboring Syria.
In related news, the sources said at least 10 rockets fired from Syria overnight landed on the outskirts of the towns of Noura and Dbabieh in the northern province of Akkar.
The rocket attack coincided with clashes that lasted between 7 p.m. Wednesday until midnight between Assad regime forces and the Syrian opposition on the Syrian side of the border facing Noura and Dbabieh.
Meanwhile, Tripoli-based reporters said pro- and anti-Assad supporters fought heavy battles overnight in Tripoli’s Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods.
They said the clashes tapered off at dawn Thursday into intermittent sniper fire targeting the city’s Mallouleh roundabout and Mankoubeen street which leads to Jabal Mohsen.
A shell landed at a house on Qadisha Street in Tripoli during the evening clashes, causing damage but no casualties. It was the first time this neighborhood has been targeted.
The area around the city's municipality headquarters was also hit by gunfire for the first time.
Fighting picked up Thursday morning and continued sporadically throughout the day.
Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami said Thursday there was no political will to end the fighting in his hometown.
"It seems that a ceasefire requires a political decision but that political decision is missing; therefore, security agencies should take a strict decision to end this situation,” Karami told reporters.
He also asked the government as well as the Interior Ministry and the Lebanese Army to end the clashes.
The latest bout of clashes broke out Tuesday in the wake of an ambush by the Syrian army against a number of Lebanese Salafist fighters in the town of Tal Kalakh.
The fighting is the latest round between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen since the March 2011 uprising against Assad spilled over into Lebanon.
Syrian Ambassador Ali Abdel-Karim Ali told Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour that his country would hand over the bodies of the Salafists.
There are conflicting reports on the exact number of dead fighters. Syrian authorities said that 21 Lebanese fell into the Syrian ambush, and has broadcast the images of more than five bodies.
The Syrian Ambassador told Mansour that the bodies of the dead would be delivered to Lebanon starting Saturday, in three trips, within one week. The announcement was made by Ali during his meeting with Mansour and Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the head of General Security.
The Lebanese Army said in a statement that its units, already deployed in Tripoli, continued to enact security measures in Bab al-Tabbaneh, Jabal Mohsen and other areas that were witnessing intermittent sniper fire.
The Army said it had arrested five individuals on suspicion of opening fire and confiscated arms and ammunition in their possession. Two soldiers were wounded during the operations and some vehicles were damage.
For its part, the March 14 General Secretariat called on the state to confront what it called the Syrian regime’s attempts to spark strife in Tripoli by ordering the Army and Internal Security Forces to act decisively.