Syrian conflict spills over into Lebanon


FIGHTING IN Syria spilled over yesterday into north Lebanon where at least four people were killed and 60 wounded, including nine Lebanese soldiers, during clashes between supporters and opponents of Damascus in the port city of Tripoli.

The clashes were between Sunni Muslims and Alawites, according to security and medical sources.

Gunmen in the Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh and their Alawite rivals in Jebel Mohsen exchanged gun and grenade fire in sporadic fighting overnight and into the day, despite action by Lebanese troops deployed in the port city, residents said.

Two of the dead men were identified as residents of Jebel Mohsen, a hill inhabited mainly by Alawites which overlooks the predominantly Sunni area below, where two other people were killed, medical sources said.

The area is one of Lebanon’s most volatile sectarian fault lines and chronic Sunni-Alawite tensions in Tripoli have been heightened by the 17-month-old, mainly Sunni, uprising in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite. Clashes in the city killed 15 people in early June.

In Syria itself, the Syrian army reasserted control over the Damascus suburb of Mu’addamiya, killing at least 23 rebels during the operation, reported the opposition Local Co-ordination Committees. Troops were said to be searching homes for arms and fighters.

Tokyo confirmed that Mika Yamamoto, a veteran Japanese war correspondent, was killed on Monday while touring the contested Salahuddin district of Aleppo with the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Kazutaka Sato, who was with her, said government soldiers appeared to have shot her. Rebel spokesmen claimed two journal- ists from US-funded al-Hurra channel who have gone missing were seized by government troops.

A western blogger responded to US president Barack Obama’s warning that Syrian deployment of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and could prompt external intervention by calling on the international community to remember the Bush administration’s use of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be non-existent, as justification of the US-led 2003 war.

Syrian opposition activist Amman Abdul Hamid said Mr Obama’s “red line” could “translate into a green light for more frenzied killing sprees by Assad and his militias”.

In reply to Mr Obama’s statement that US forces could act if chemical weapons were deployed against rebels, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned the West against taking unilateral action against Syria.

Following a meeting between Mr Lavrov and Chinese state councillor Dai Bingguo, the two sides agreed that the “norms of international law and the principles contained in the UN charter” should be strictly observed.

Mr Lavrov has said only the UN Security Council can authorise the use of force against Syria.

Mr Lavrov also told Syria’s deputy prime minister Qadri Jamil, at the outset of talks in Moscow, that efforts to end the crisis were “not enough” and urged the government to end the fighting and pursue dialogue.

Commenting on Mr Obama’s remarks on chemical weapons, Mr Jamil said foreign military intervention was “impossible” since it would precipitate conflict beyond Syria’s borders.

The Russian foreign ministry also called for a halt to weapons smuggling into Syria.

The Elders, Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council warned in a letter to the UN yesterday that 1.5 million displaced Syrians are in urgent need of humanitarian aid, 90 per cent of whom remain within Syria.

Medecins Sans Frontières revealed yesterday it had been working in Syria at an undisclosed location over the past two months.

With the assistance of Syrian doctors, the organisation has treated 300 patients and performed 150 surgeries. The injuries were inflicted by bombing, shelling and gun shots.

One in 10 patients were women, with 20 per cent of all patients under 20 years. – (Additional reporting by Reuters)