TRIPOLI, Lebanon: A security plan to end hostilities in Tripoli, north Lebanon, got under way overnight after fighting between pro- and anti-Assad groups in the city claimed the lives of at least 17 people, security sources said Monday.
The plan, launched at 10 p.m. Sunday, saw the deployment of the military in the hot spots of Jabal Mohsen, where fighters who support Syrian President Bashar Assad have waged intensive clashes with their rivals in Bab al-Tabbaneh, a neighborhood that staunchly backs the uprising in Lebanon’s neighbor.
Upon deployment, Jabal Mohsen residents went out on to the streets to welcome the troops, with some offering soldiers the traditional Manqoushe, a baked flatbread topped with cheese or thyme.
At 5 a.m. Monday morning, troops in Armored Personnel Carriers, Humvees and trucks, deployed around Harba Mosque and Al-Asmar Square in Bab al-Tabbaneh in line with the security plan, which was announced during a meeting of the Higher Defense Council Sunday.
Bab al-Tabbaneh residents also welcomed the deployment, although more cautiously.
Guns fell silent after the Army deployment took effect beginning Sunday evening.
Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, has been rocked by several rounds of sectarian violence in past months linked to divisions over the 21-month-old conflict in Syria.
The latest round of fighting has left at least 17 dead and almost 80 wounded.
Tripoli residents ventured out Monday as life slowly began returning to normal.
Schools across Tripoli are likely to reopen after a one-week closure due to the fighting.
“Schools might reopen Tuesday,” said Nada Sadek, 43, who teaches French at a public school in Minyeh.
Sadek said she was happy to leave the house Monday after fighting forced her and her nine-year-old daughter to stay indoors.
“I hadn’t left the house for more than four days for my own safety and that of my daughter,” she told The Daily Star.
“I was able to go to the bank and finish some transactions today,” Sadek added, pointing out that shelling – during this recent bout of clashes – for the first time hit near her residence on Mulla Street, some distance from the scene of the fighting.
“The Army was empowered to take measures to consolidate security in Tripoli and prevent renewal of fighting,” Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, who attended the Higher Defense Council meeting, told The Daily Star Sunday.
A military source said the security plan – to be carried out in stages – calls for the elimination of demarcation lines between Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh.
The source, who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity, said the removal of barricades and sandbags is also part of the plan.
In Bab al-Tabbaneh, men gathered around coffee vendors, on streets littered with broken glass from heavy fighting.
Many of them were engaged in discussion about the types of weapons used in the battles, in a mood of increasingly entrenched political animosity.
Maintenance teams were yet to arrive to restore power and water service.
Troops were moving carefully in and around the vegetable market, conducting foot patrols to maintain law and order.
The Army is a widely respected institution in Lebanon and has often been called upon to calm tensions between the country's various political groups. However, some in Bab al-Tabbaneh consider the Army to be biased toward Jabal Mohsen.
“The Army is loyal to Hezbollah and Syria and the Alawites,” one man was overheard whispering.
In Jabal Mohsen, the scene was different. Residents looked relieved after the Army deployment.
“Thank God the fighting stopped. I haven’t been able to go to work all last week,” said Youssef al-Sheikh as he rushed to check on a power generator he owns in Tripoli. Sheikh makes his living from the generator which distributes electricity in the absensce of city power.
The security meeting at Baabda Palace also coincided with calls from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to end the violence in Tripoli.
Security sources told The Daily Star Monday that two Alawite residents from Jabal Mohsen were released a few hours after they were kidnapped Sunday night. They said the release came following intensified efforts by Lebanese Army Intelligence.
The violence in Tripoli came days after fighters from the city were slain in a Syrian army ambush in Tal Kalakh, which lies near the border with Lebanon. There have been conflicting reports on the exact number of men who were killed.
Syrian security officials Sunday handed over the bodies of three of the slain Lebanese fighters.
Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour was informed in a letter Saturday that three of the slain fighters would be returned to Lebanon Sunday. The letter added that the remaining bodies of Lebanese fighters would be returned in several stages for “logistical reasons.”