TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army entered Friday the warring neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen in Tripoli, north Lebanon, following heavy overnight clashes between opponents and supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The Army Command issued a statement Friday calling on residents to report any suspicious activity in the vicinity.
“We call on residents living in areas that witnessed clashes in North Lebanon to cooperate with the army and report any suspicious activity,” the statement issued Friday afternoon said.
Meanwhile, gunmen battling fighters in Jabal Mohsen, which strongly supports Assad, unified under a Salafist fighter wanted by Lebanese authorities.
A late night meeting of the various groups in Bab Al-Tabbaneh, which oppose the Syrian president, agreed to appoint Husam Sabbagh, an Al-Qaeda-inspired fighter, as their military commander to lead the fight against Jabal Mohsen gunmen, sources among the groups said.
Sabbagh has several arrest warrants against him by Lebanese authorities for his prominent role during clashes between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese Army at Tripoli’s Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in 2007.
Following their defeat, authorities sought the arrest of 570 Fatah al-Islam members, many, but not all, were apprehended.
The sources said the groups, which met at Bab al-Tabbaneh’s Harba Mosque, unanimously picked Sabbagh to head the new leadership.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati telephoned Friday President Michel Sleiman to discuss the Tripoli violence.
The two agreed that a meeting of the Higher Defense Council be held under Mikati at Baabda Palace Sunday.
Sleiman, who normally heads the Higher Defense Council, started an official visit to Greece Thursday.
As deputy council head, Mikati – who spoke over the phone to Sleiman during a meeting at the Grand Serail with Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and police chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi – can chair the meeting.
Charbel will head to Tripoli later Friday to chair a sub-council meeting to discuss the hostilities.
Mikati was also briefed by military commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi on the measures taken by the Lebanese Army.
“The government continues to take all the necessary steps to maintain civil peace,” Mikati said in a statement Friday.
Mikati, who hails from Tripoli, returned to Beirut Thursday evening from an official visit to Italy. He canceled a scheduled visit to Nice, France, due to unrest in the northern city.
At least 13 people have been killed and more than 60 wounded in the latest round of hostilities between the rival neighborhoods which erupted Monday after news broke that a group of Lebanese Salafist fighters were ambushed by Syrian soldiers in the Syrian town of Tal Kalakh.
Reports differ on how many of the fighters were killed and wounded. Syrian state television has broadcast images of more than five dead bodies, saying that 21 Lebanese fell victim to the ambush.
Syrian Ambassador Ali Abdel-Karim Ali told Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour earlier in the week that Syria would return the Salafists’ bodies beginning Saturday, in three rounds, within the span of week.
Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr has launched an investigation into the violence, aiming to prosecute those involved in the fighting as well as those who have fired on the Army.
Lebanese troops in trucks and armored vehicles entered the embattled districts at 6 a.m. Friday following a night of heavy exchanges of rocket-propelled grenades as well as mortar and machine-gun fire.