TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Despite calls for calm from across the political spectrum, the security situation in Tripoli is deteriorating. Amid the monthlong cease-fire between the neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, the city is bracing for a new round of violence.
In the past few weeks, grenades have been thrown and there have been sporadic shooting.
Fed up with the on-and-off violence between the majority Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh and the mostly Alawite Jabal Mohsen, Bab al-Tabbaneh carpenter Zakaria Shmeitan finally decided to move his family to a different part of Tripoli.
“This street looks like hell ... and we have been taking my daughter to the hospital for treatment from the trauma,” Shmeitan said.
“The situation is unbearable. There are rumors in the streets about a new wave of violence, and everyone is getting ready for a new battle. So I decided to move out along with my family, because I don’t want to lose my daughter to this.”
Dozens have been killed in the last few months of fighting, and hundreds wounded. Shmeitan is not alone; many families are suffering in the two overcrowded Tripoli neighborhoods that, by unofficial statistics, together have a population of 150,000.
Some 100,000 people are said to live in Bab al-Tabbaneh’s 3 square kilometers, where most residents back the Syrian uprising. Another 50,000 live in Jabal Mohsen and the predominantly Alawite surrounding areas where the majority back Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Tripoli MP Mustafa Alloush believes the Syrian regime is attempting to incorporate Tripoli into its battles in a bid to hold on to power for longer. “The situation in Tripoli is unstable, [and will remain so] as long as there is a group that is trying to link the city’s stability with the fate of the Assad regime that will definitely collapse,” said the Future Movement lawmaker.
“There are military barracks in Jabal Mohsen, and armed groups connected to Hezbollah who are trying to bring instability. All these attempts are part of the regime’s plan to widen the geography of the killings,” Alloush added.
Hezbollah has repeatedly been accused of having armed and funded the pro-Assad fighters in Jabal Mohsen, allegations it has denied.
In response to Alloush, Abdul-Latif Saleh, spokesperson of the Arab Democratic Party, said that Jabal Mohsen was being targeted by armed groups who are backed by the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch.
“They are targeting us with the support of the Information Branch to serve the interests of the Free Syrian Army and the Future Movement, but the fighting [that is taking place] is not with us but with the Lebanese Army that we fully trust.”
Saleh added that residents of Jabal Mohsen are frequently attacked, be it through vandalism of their businesses or personal assaults on the street.
“No week passes without violence toward Jabal Mohsen’s residents ... They are attacking Jabal Mohsen’s residents in Tripoli and outside it, in areas such as Al-Boqar and Mankoubin,” Saleh said, adding that such incidents “aim to create civil strife and there are some who are promoting this through their speeches.”
Last week, a rumor spread in Tripoli that Arab Democratic Party leader Rifaat Eid, fearing an attack on his residence by a Future Movement-backed Salafist group, had fled Jabal Mohsen.
The buzz claimed that Eid was in the Akkar town of Hakour al-Daher as an operation was being planned to enter Jabal Mohsen and eliminate the ADP’s supporters in time for the collapse of Assad’s regime.
While Eid did not answer phone calls, one of his bodyguards denied that the leader had left Jabal Mohsen, insisting he was in his Tripoli home and receiving guests regularly.
“Rifaat Eid wants to distance himself from the media to calm the situation,” the bodyguard said. “He has made this decision out of his sense of national responsibility, and now we see the Future Movement exploiting this by spreading rumors that he fled Tripoli and relocated in Akkar close to the Syrian border.”
A source close to Eid, who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity, said Eid had recently made a three-day visit to Damascus, where he was told by the Syrian regime that that its army still controlled more than 80 percent of Syrian territory.
Given the ongoing battles in Syria and Assad’s apparent determination to stay in power, morale among ADP supporters in Jabal Mohsen is high.
And although the Lebanese government continues to reiterate its policy of dissociation from the events in Syria, Tripoli has become completely intertwined with its neighboring country.