TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Lebanese soldiers backed by armored vehicles deployed Tuesday in the northern coastal city of Tripoli to restore order after three days of clashes between the rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen that claimed the lives of three and wounded scores more.
Lebanese Army troops in their hundreds scrambled to the area in the early hours of the morning and began erecting checkpoints and conducting patrols, particularly along Syria Street that runs between Bab al-Tabbaneh, whose residents oppose Assad, and Jabal Mohsen, whose residents support the Syrian leader.
The street clashes between the rival neighborhoods took off Saturday night after the controversial arrest of Islamist Shadi Mawlawi, who was charged Monday with belonging to an “armed terrorist group.”
At least seven people were killed in the clashes and 98 other people were wounded.
Despite the deployment, brief fighting broke out at around 4 p.m. in Talaat al-Rifaiya between members of two families, one that backs Assad, the other opposing the embattled leader.
Toufiq Hammoud and Ahmad Dahoud were among three people to be wounded in the fighting that subsided at around 5.30 p.m.
Meanwhile, residents in the Abeed neighborhood in Mina panicked upon seeing a gunman on the streets, prompting the Lebanese Army to boost security measures in various parts of the city.
Tuesday’s deployment came a day after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri urged Lebanese political, religious and military leaders to do “whatever it takes” to end the clashes.
The Lebanese Army, in a statement, said its presence in Tripoli was aimed at protecting civilians and not “clashing with them.”
“It affirms that imposition of security is a national need for all Lebanese and that chaos would not be in the interest of anyone,” the statement said.
“The army's presence in Tripoli is to preserve stability and not face residents or clash with them.”
The head of the Lebanese Army Gen. Jean Kahwagi said in remarks published Tuesday that the army’s decision to begin deployment in Tripoli came after he made sure soldiers would not be targeted.
“The army entered the areas of clashes right from the start but shots were fired at [the military] and we want protection for our soldiers and [at the same time] we do not want to shoot at [gunmen],” Kahwagi told Al-Akhbar.
The first person to have been killed by sniper fire Sunday was Faisal Abdullah al-Hussein, a soldier.
“When we made sure that everyone was demanding the army's presence and that soldiers would be safe from targeting so that they could enter areas of tensions and deploy, we took the decision to deploy,” Kahwagi added.
“All issues will be resolved and things will return to normal gradually,” he said.
Members of the police also took part in Tuesday’s deployment.
Three hundred members of the Internal Security Forces entered the area under Brig. Gen. Bassam Ayoubi.
No armed men were to be seen, the police chief reported, according to security sources.
Reactions to the arrest of Mawlawi, the figure that sparked the days-long clashes, continued to come from different sides.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati reiterated Tuesday his opposition to the manner in which Mawlawi was apprehended, describing it as “inappropriate.”
“The arrest of Shadi Mawlawi is inappropriate and unacceptable and it is a violation of a minister and an MP’s office and we reject it,” Mikati told reporters at the Grand Serail.
Mawlawi was reportedly lured by General Security Saturday to an office of Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi’s welfare association.
The prime minister also denied that there was a “Syrian factor” in play in the arrest of the Islamist.
The opposition Future Movement took a harsher tone on the affair, saying the detention resembled more a kidnapping.
“[The detention] resembled more an abduction and therefore raises suspicions as if it was prepared to rekindle the fire from under the ashes of tension as a result of previous practices that targeted the city, its residents and social fabric,” the movement said in a statement following its weekly meeting that was held in Tripoli.
The group also said it would hold Mikati responsible for any shortcomings by authorities to protect the city and its citizens.
It also said there would be no protection for those tampering with security and stability.
“[We] confirm that there will no protection for any faction, person or side that carries weapons or disturbs the security, stability and co-existence,” the Future Movement said.
Mikati, who hails from Tripoli, warned that tension in the country was at elevated levels.
“Lebanon is at the edge of a volcano,” he said.
The prime minister also said there would be no compromise with regards to maintaining security.
“There is no compromise when it comes to security and we are working wisely amid major changes,” He said, adding that he was in contact all Tripoli figures to establish security and stability.
Several meetings were held Sunday and Monday between religious and political figures in Tripoli to prevent further escalation in tension. They agreed on the importance of the army’s presence in the city and the withdrawal of gunmen from the streets.
Security sources told The Daily Star that Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen residents are expected to return to their homes Tuesday to check on their houses that were damaged by the heavy clashes.
Sources said that the army has orders to arrest any gunman and refer them to the Military Tribunal.
Meanwhile, people continued Tuesday participating in a sit-in at Abdel-Hamid Karami Square, also known as Nour Square, in protest over Mawlawi’s detention.