TRIPOLI, Lebanon: After two days of sectarian clashes in the northern city of Tripoli, calm returned Wednesday after the Lebanese Army beefed up its presence and arrested many gunmen.
While no gunshots were heard during the day, rivals from the Sunni stronghold of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Alawite Jabal Mohsen said that fighting could resume at any time.
“It’s true that the fighting has stopped, but it can return any minute. People are still living in a state of war,” said one Tripoli man who refused to give his name.
Pointing toward Jabal Mohsen, he said that there are gunmen fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime.
Although this round of clashes in Tripoli was sparked by the assassination of senior security chief Wissam al-Hasan, violence fueled by sectarian rivalry is nothing new to the city.
Tripoli has witnessed at least five rounds of confrontations between the two neighborhoods since the start of the popular uprising in Syria.
Founder of the Salafist Movement in Lebanon, Sheikh Dai al-Islam al-Shahal praised the Army’s crackdown on gunmen in Tripoli while cautioning that some could exploit the Army.
“The Army’s role is excellent in the city, and we are with this, we want peace. But the Army should be cautious of attempts by some to penetrate its ranks and exploit it,” Shahal said in a news conference at his residence.
Shahal also said that Hasan’s assassination was intended to spread chaos throughout Lebanon.
“What they wanted from his assassination is to assassinate Lebanon,” Shahal said, adding that the Syrian regime and its allies in Lebanon wanted to make a pre-emptive strike against Lebanon.
For his part, Rifaat Eid, the leader of the Arab Democratic Party who hails from Jabal Mohsen, said that those behind the armed gunmen in Beirut and the north are the ones responsible for Hasan’s assassination.
“At least half of the battles in Lebanon are being carried out by the so-called Syrian opposition members,” Eid said at a news conference.
Eid also said that the government should take swift measures against Syrians who have taken part in the fighting in Lebanon: “If the government and the Army fail to crackdown on the armed Syrians, all of Lebanon will explode.”
Meanwhile, civil society protesters and March 14 activists in Tripoli continued their sit-in near Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s residence.
Sources speaking on condition of anonymity said that the sit-in will get bigger by the weekend and on Sunday Hasan’s family will receive condolences at the site of the protest.