TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Fighting intensified in the northern city of Tripoli after talks to reach a cease-fire failed Wednesday, as the casualty toll from four consecutive days of fighting rose to 14 dead and more than 100 wounded.
Clashes were still raging in the city well into the night.
Mediation attempts to put a cease-fire into place between the rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen failed, and the partial calm of Wednesday afternoon was shattered with a new round of clashes.
Minutes after a rocket fell on the Nashabe Mosque on Syria Street separating the two neighborhoods, snipers repositioned themselves and a fresh round of fighting erupted.
The three men who died on Wednesday were identified as Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Mustafa, Mahmoud Obeid and a Syrian national, Hussein Ibrahim.
Residents of the city feared a delay in cease-fire mediation would only lead to further escalation of violence.
President Michel Sleiman chaired a high-level security meeting in Beirut to discuss the security situation in the north. No official statement was issued after the meeting.
Another meeting was scheduled to take place at MP Mohammad Kabbara’s residence in the city, but it was postponed after some religious figures rejected calls for a cease-fire, arguing that Jabal Mohsen was not relenting in its attacks against Bab al-Tabbaneh.
With little success, Kabbara, accompanied by Sheikh Bilal Baroudi and Nabil Rahim, held talks at the Harba Mosque in Bab al-Tabbaneh aimed at reaching an agreement and averting another night of violence.
A separate meeting late at night also failed to reach an agreement.
As condemnations of the violence poured in from across the country, local residents criticized the Army for failing to arrest members of armed groups in both neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, the intentional targeting of Army vehicles and soldiers drew the ire of politicians outside Tripoli, who said the move was unprecedented in the northern city.
“The direct targeting of the Lebanese Army by snipers and other arms requires a firm stance of unconditional support to the Army by giving it political cover to carry out its duties,” Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said Wednesday.
“Anything less than that would be a plot against the Army in this critical situation,” Jumblatt said in a statement.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora also condemned attacks targeting the Army, which has been mostly caught in crossfire of the clashes.
The statements of support for the Army came shortly after Gen. Jean Kahwagi sternly warned fighters in Tripoli that Army units would from now on react if they came under attack. “The Army’s measures from now on will reflect the dangerous situation the country is in and it will no longer remain silent in the face of the attacks on its troops,” Kahwagi said in a statement on the 13th anniversary of the liberation of the south from Israeli occupation.
Two Army soldiers have been killed in this week’s clashes in Tripoli.
Braving the violence in the city, civil society activists took to the streets and called for an end to sectarian strife.
“Enough, we want to live in peace, Tripoli is against killings,” read banners held by protesters who gathered in Abdel-Hamid Karami Square.
Activists called on the president and Kahwagi to crack down on the armed groups in the city who they accused of hijacking Tripoli’s economy and stability.
For a one-hour-period overnight Tuesday at least 47 mortar bombs fell in the northern city, forcing residents to huddle in the corners of their homes.
The city fell silent at 7 a.m. Wednesday after fighters took a break, exhausted from the long night of fighting. However, intermittent sniper fire could still be heard in the morning.
“We are so exhausted. We decided to take a break until 11 or 12 noon,” a commander in Bab al-Tabanneh told The Daily Star.
At a news conference former MP Misbah Ahdab criticized the Army for its lack of a strategic plan in the city.
“We don’t want an Army that lets armed groups pass right by them and stops the residents of Tripoli at checkpoints,” Ahdab said.
Ahdab also warned politicians against ignoring the violence in Tripoli, saying that if left unresolved it could soon spread to Sidon and Beirut.
Meanwhile, Sleiman made separate phone calls to caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn, Kahwagi and caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel to discuss the developments in Tripoli.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, for his part, said the Army had “full authority” to take the necessary measures to end the clashes and arrest those involved in the fighting, a statement from his office said.
“[Politicians] should also keep Tripoli away from political disputes and refrain from using the city as a mailbox to send regional or local messages,” the statement added.