Deadly clashes raged for a third day in Tripoli between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad Tuesday, as residents brace for further escalation of the violence that has claimed at least eight lives since hostilities erupted over the weekend.
Security sources identified Mohammad al-Rifi, a taxi driver, as one of Tuesday’s three fatalities, adding that nine other people were wounded as a result of the fighting between Jabal Mohsen, where support for Assad is strong, and Bab al-Tabbaneh, which backs the Syria uprising.
Rifi was shot dead by gunfire as he drove his cab past Tripoli’s Mallouleh roundabout around midday, the sources said.
Unlike previous days, they noted, Tuesday’s clashes appeared to be escalating the long-term conflict between the two neighborhoods.
They said “new weapons,” unseen in previous clashes, were being used by fighters. Mortar bombs were also featuring more prominently in the fighting, with one falling near the city’s downtown area in the evening hours of the day.
There were also reports of increased confrontations between the Lebanese Army and Bab al-Tabbaneh fighters and two Army soldiers were killed Monday while troops attempted to restore calm in the city.
The Army has usually not been targeted in the conflict.
The sources said the patience of commanders in Jabal Mohsen was wearing thin, and it was possible the pro-Assad fighters could launch a large offensive against their rivals in Bab al-Tabbaneh soon.
In a possible sign that violence could soon escalate in Tripoli, Rifaat Eid, leader of Jabal Mohsen’s fighters and the head of the Arab Democratic Party, suggested his party would take action.
“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, the provoker is most to blame ... This is the last straw. You will hear the roar of Jabal Mohsen,” a post on Eid’s Facebook page said.
On Monday, Eid accused Bab al-Tabbaneh’s takfiri groups of instigating the recent clashes in the city.
Tuesday’s hostilities came shortly after the Army dispatched a commando unit to Bab al-Tabbaneh, beefing up the military’s presence there. The Army is also stationed in parts of Jabal Mohsen.
In the hours before the fresh fighting broke out, troops were seen patrolling major roads in Bab al-Tabbaneh, particularly Syria Street which separates the rival neighborhoods, all the way to Mallouleh roundabout and the main thoroughfare linking Tripoli with Akkar, further north.
Recurrent fighting in Tripoli has plagued Lebanon’s second largest city for years.
However, the increased frequency of clashes between the armed rivals since 2011 has been linked to the crisis in Syria. Lebanon remains polarized over the developments across the border and local and international officials have repeatedly warned against a spillover effect from the two-year old conflict.
The latest round of clashes erupted after a wide-scale offensive was launched by the Syrian army and Hezbollah on the rebel-held strategic city of Qusair, in Syria's Homs.