TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Fighting in Lebanon’s second-largest city tapered off Friday but claimed the life of one resident and wounded eight others, as local militiamen from Bab al-Tabbaneh rejected army deployment in their neighborhood.
Fighting renewed in the early morning hours Friday at the Hariri Project, Qibbeh, Souk al-Qamh and Omari, as explosions were heard in the Zahrieh and Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhoods.
Field commanders in Bab al-Tabbaneh said they would not allow the Army to be deployed around their neighborhood, nor would they agree to a cease-fire until Rifaat Eid, the head of the Arab Democratic Party in rival Jabal Mohsen, was handed over to authorities for what they said was his role in instigating the fighting.
The field commanders also said that they would only allow Army units in the area if troops were are stationed inside Jabal Mohsen.
Security sources identified Friday’s casualty as Imad Qassir. Twenty-four people have been killed and 200 wounded since the fighting erupted on Sunday between supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsen, and the anti-regime mainly Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh.
The sources also said nearly 1,200 mortal shells and rocket propelled grenades were fired in Tripoli between 9 p.m. Thursday and 7 a.m. Friday.
Unlike previous clashes, the fighting spread beyond the traditional frontlines, as masked men fought a nearly two-hour battle with Army troops in the Khnaq alleyway of Abi Samra, after midnight Friday.
During a ceremony at the Army command in Yarzeh to mark Liberation Day, President Michel Sleiman associated the ongoing violence in Tripoli to the Syrian crisis. “What is happening in Tripoli is a reflection of what is going on in Syria,” he said.
“With our own hands we are turning Lebanon into an arena [of fighting]; we are fighting in other arenas, like Qusair [in Syria], and in internal ones like Tripoli,” Sleiman said.
The United States expressed its concern that the violence was further evidence of the Syrian crisis taking root in Lebanon, and blamed Hezbollah for any a spillover.
“The latest clashes in the northern city of Tripoli ... constitute a stark reminder that the conflict in Syria poses an increasingly dangerous threat to Lebanon’s stability and security,” State Department Deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement from the U.S. Embassy.
“Hezbollah’s leader’s decision to escalate the group’s role in the fighting in Syria violates and undermines Lebanon’s disassociation policy and risks dragging Lebanon into a foreign conflict,” he added.
Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi asked for political support to end the fighting. “Mr. President, we are counting on your ability as well as that of the Parliament Speaker [Nabih Berri] and the prime minister [Najib Mikati] to get Lebanon out of this crisis [in Tripoli],” Kahwagi said during a ceremony to mark Liberation Day.
He called on Sleiman, Berri and Mikati to “form a political umbrella for the Army so that it can accomplish its duty to keep the civil peace away from political polemics.”
During the day the Islamist group Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya organized a protest after Friday prayers in support of the Syrian rebels and condemned Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian crisis, by gathering outside the Mansouri Mosque and burning Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah flags.
Top Sunni leaders called on security agencies to adopt an urgent plan to end the fighting, “in order to reach an arms-free Tripoli.”
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam and former prime ministers Omar Karami and Fouad Siniora made the plea to restore order, in a statement issued after a meeting at Mikati’s office at the Grand Serail.