Two people were killed and 28 others were wounded in fierce clashes in Tripoli, north Lebanon, which continued until the early hours of Thursday morning, security sources said, as the acting head of the police warned that the situation in the city was dire.
Security sources identified Abed Sankari and Fawzi Hawshar as the latest fatalities from the overnight fighting, raising the death toll from the daily violence that began Sunday to 16.
Among the dead are two Lebanese soldiers who were killed Monday. A total of 192 people – including 42 soldiers – have been wounded so far.
The overnight clashes between supporters of President Bashar Assad in the predominantly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen and backers of the Syrian uprising in the mostly Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh saw heavy use of a variety of weapons once again.
Mortar bombs as well as rocket-propelled grenades sent smoke billowing in the night sky as residents braved another sleepless night.
Mosque loudspeakers urged residents living on upper floors to take shelter on lower levels.
This was the second night of intense fighting the port city has seen since the outbreak of hostilities.
The fighting raged well into the early morning hours and several attempts by the rival gunmen to advance into each other’s neighborhoods failed.
Caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami, who hails from the city, described the night as “one of the worst nights in Tripoli since the [Lebanese] Civil War.”
The Army pulled out from hot spots in Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen Wednesday after mediation attempts to put a cease-fire into effect failed.
Intermittent fighting continued into the afternoon hours of Thursday, with residents from both neighborhoods describing the situation as grim.
Sniper fire poses a constant danger, Khaled Shakhshir, one local from Bab al-Tabbaneh told The Daily Star over the phone.
“We hear intermittent rocket fire but snipers are still outside and people are afraid to leave their homes. The situation is tragic,” Shakhshir said.
He said at least 60 families, who live close to hot spots, were forced to take shelter in one of the neighborhood’s schools.
Food supplies are also running low, Shakhshir said.
“People are finding it difficult to secure food for their families which has led some to leave the neighborhood, risking their lives in the process, in order to find supplies for their loved ones,” he said.
“All the shops are closed, we cannot even buy any bread, we are feeding on whatever is available even if it is very little,” he added.
Youssef al-Sheikh, from Jabal Mohsen, described the situation as “very bad” and that residents of the neighborhood were concerned of being cut off from the rest of the city.
“When the clashes start, the area becomes isolated from all its surrounding and we become completely cut off from the outer world,” he said.
Al-Sheikh also hailed the military for supporting residents and said soldiers were intervening when Jabal Mohsen, which overlooks Bab al-Tabbaneh, was being “besieged.”
“We have good ties with the Army. Whenever the area is besieged and under fire, soldiers help out to transport the wounded to hospitals and they also try to secure us some food supplies,” he said.
“They transform from being soldiers into life savers and medics,” he added.
Karami, who voiced outrage over the government handling of the crisis, said residents were wondering whether Tripoli was “still part of Lebanon or become some isolated island.”
“I’m also surprised by the government silence toward Tripoli and everyone’s preoccupation with the elections law,” he told Voice of Lebanon radio station in the morning.
Acting police chief Brig. Gen. Roger Salem also warned that the situation in the port city was dire.
“The situation in Tripoli is very serious. This is the first time we see such a high fatality rate,” Salem told reporters after meeting senior security officials in Tripoli.
When asked whether the fighters enjoyed political support, Salem said: "There is no political cover for the gunmen who are acting alone as they are affected by the situation in Syria.”
The weekend violence erupted shortly after Syrian government troops backed by Hezbollah fighters launched a major offensive in the rebel-held city of Qusair, which is located near the Lebanese border.
Battle commanders in Bab al-Tabbaneh are unwilling to end the fighting before Hezbollah fighters withdraw from Qusair, a Syrian town in Homs province, sourced told The Daily Star Thursday.
Salam said efforts were under way to curb the violence.
“We will try to fix things as much as possible, at least in areas far from the fighting in order to preserve the safety of citizens,” Salam said.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said politicians needed to take action to allow the military to do its job.
"A cease-fire is a big decision required of politicians. After that, the Army will be assigned to oversee the cease-fire,” Charbel told the local Al-Mustaqbal newspaper in remarks published Thursday.
The atmosphere in Tripoli has become so tense and polarized that it is unlikely the clashes will end soon, an activist close to cease-fire discussions said.
Fighters have strongly rejected calls to stop the fighting and a number of the city’s politicians have thrown their support behind Bab al-Tabbaneh, priming the ground for more fighting, said Chadi Nachabe, an activist from Bab al-Tabbaneh.
There will likely be more fighting, he said.
“Now they [Bab al-Tabbaneh fighters] have more support from politicians and others to tell Jabal Mohsen to stop what they are doing,” Nachabe said. - Additional reporting by Jana El Hassan and Stephen Dockery
source www.dailystar.com.lb By Antoine Amrieh, Misbah al-Ali