TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Two rival families – one supporting the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition and the other pro-Salafists – fought fierce clashes once more Friday in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city which has been rocked by daily violence linked to the crisis in Syria.
Evening rocket attacks between the Salafist Heijar clan and the pro-March 8 Nashar family in Talat Ar-Rifaia wounded at least two people, including Omar Nashar, prompting the Army to intervene to end the fighting, security sources said.
The two sides had fought in Tripoli’s Old Souk area Thursday into Friday, the sources said, leading to the wounding of three people.
Machine gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades had been used in the fighting between the two families and Army efforts to end the clashes were hampered by the narrow alleyways leading to the clash point.
The renewed fighting between the two sides came after the military cautioned citizens of plots against Lebanon and warned them against being dragged into the Syria war.
“The Lebanese Army, as much as it’s going to be resolute in its security measures, urges citizens to be aware of the plots aimed at taking Lebanon back and dragging it into a futile war,” the military said in a statement.
It called on Lebanese to express political views regarding the Syria conflict “democratically and peacefully and without provoking anyone.”
“Do not be dragged behind groups that want to use violence as a means to achieve their objectives,” the Army told citizens.
It also warned pro- and anti-Assad gunmen in Tripoli that force would be met with force.
The statement came as the Lebanese Army set up checkpoints at the entrances to Tripoli as well as on the city’s main roads after heavy clashes in the city linked the crisis in Lebanon’s neighbor.
President Michel Sleiman praised the military’s deployment in the city and its surrounding.
“Sleiman expressed his satisfaction with the Army plan to deploy in Tripoli and surroundings [Friday],” a statement from Baabda Palace said.
Over a dozen people have been wounded since late Thursday, security sources said. Six people have been killed since the eruption of violence last week.
Security sources said five people were hurt overnight when a rocket-propelled grenade fell on Syria Street that separates the warring neighborhoods of mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh and predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsen.
Fighting raged along the traditional frontlines between Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh through much of the night, they said, with loud explosions and intermittent bursts of machine gun fire echoing throughout the city.
An Army officer and a soldier were among the three wounded from the fighting in Jabal Mohsen, according to the sources. They were identified as Lt. George al-Hajj and private Ahmad Ismail.
Despite a lull in the clashes in the morning, the city remained paralyzed.
“ Tripoli looked like a ghost city last night,” one resident told The Daily Star Friday.
“Only Lebanese military vehicles were visible,” the resident said.
Schools, which had to brave the fighting and open for final exams this week, were closed. Many businesses were also shut.
On Thursday, masked gunmen belonging to neighborhood leader Ziad Alouki raked shops in Tripoli with machine gun fire, forcing owners to close and causing panic among residents.
Armed men also blocked roads across Tripoli with burning tires.
Frightened moms and dads rushed to schools to pick up their children and several schools had to stay open until 4 p.m. until parents were able to arrive to collect their loved ones.
The sources said the gunmen were enraged by an Army raid on a weapons depot that belonged to Alouki.
The military said Thursday it seized two arms depots – one in Tripoli’s Souk al-Qameh and the other in Jabal Mohsen.