Lebanon News

Armed clashes increasing in frequency in Tripoli

The Lebanese Army deploys in the Tripoli neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh after a family dispute escalated into a shooting match, killing two, on Saturday, July 22, 2012. (The Daily Star/Antoine Amrieh)

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Armed clashes over personal disputes motivated by political allegiances have become a regular occurrence in various Tripoli neighborhoods, with the heavy proliferation of arms among local groups frightening citizens.

Most recently, chaos erupted in Tal Square Sunday night as gunfire erupted following a dispute between the Kawas and Sello families over the right to operate vegetable carts in the square.

Speaking to The Daily Star, Abu Mansour, who took part in the altercation, said: “We did not want to open gunfire in the holy month of Ramadan, but the attempt of some people to impose the logic of force prompted us to resort to arms, and this is what happened.”

Sunday’s incident was not the first in the city where residents’ general impression is that this chaos is a reflection of the tense political situation in the country and the turmoil in neighboring Syria.

But many residents also believe that some armed groups are trying to take over several neighborhoods in the city and eliminate the presence of Hezbollah supporters.

In the neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh residents complain of extortion – armed groups obliging merchants in the vegetable market to pay protection money. These merchants demonstrated last week in protest of the security situation and demanded security bodies assume their role in the area.

Meanwhile, mediation efforts to reconcile Bab al-Tabbaneh’s Khalaf and Aswad families have reached a dead end. Last month, members of the families engaged in an armed clash that left two dead.

The Khalaf family refuses to allow Faisal Aswad to return to Bab al-Tabbaneh not because he shot two of their family members but because he is close to Hezbollah, who provides him with money and support.

In Mina permanent tension exists between Salafist supporters and guards of a mosque affiliated with Sheikh Hashem Minkara from the pro-Syrian, pro-Hezbollah Tawhid movement.

This tension flared into an armed clash between the two last week. Since then disputes and fistfights have become a nightly occurrence; however, the Lebanese Army’s deployment in the area has curbed the use of firearms.

Just like in Bab al-Tabbaneh, some groups in the area have raised the slogan that supporters of Hezbollah should not be allowed to live in Tripoli.

Similar chaos occurred in the old markets as tension rose between the Nashar and Hijazi families. The Nashar family aligns itself with Hezbollah. The outcome of this dispute was different, with Bassam Nashar saying that he abandoned Hezbollah and he stands today by his people and supports the Syrian uprising.

In addition to inter-family fights, Tripoli has witnessed sporadic armed clashes between supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood and rivals in Bab al-Tabbaneh where anti-Assad sentiment runs high.

The high frequency of violence indicates Tripoli lacks a functioning security apparatus and armed clashes continue to be a regular occurrence

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 14, 2012, on page 3.




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