Clashes linked to Syria result in seven deaths in Lebanese cities


BEIRUT – At least seven people were killed and dozens wounded in gun battles in the Lebanese capital Beirut and coastal Tripoli yesterday in further unrest linked to the conflict in neighbouring Syria, security and hospital sources said.

The clashes have heightened fears that Syria’s civil war, with its sectarian dimensions, is now spreading into Lebanon, pitting local allies and opponents of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad against each other.

The Lebanese army promised decisive action to quell the violence, which was touched off by the assassination of a senior intelligence officer last week.

That killing has plunged Lebanon into a political crisis and the army command urged party leaders to be cautious in their public statements so as not to inflame passions further.

It issued the warning after troops and gunmen exchanged fire in Beirut’s southern suburbs overnight and yesterday morning while protesters blocked roads with burning tyres.

Many politicians have accused Syria of being behind the killing of Brig Gen Wissam al-Hassan, an intelligence chief opposed to the Syrian leadership, who was blown up by a car bomb in central Beirut on Friday.

Opposition leaders want prime minister Najib Mikati to resign, saying he is too close to Mr Assad and his Lebanese ally Hizbullah.

The worst of the clashes since late Sunday took place in the northern city of Tripoli, the scene of previous fighting between Sunni Muslims backing the Syrian insurgents and Alawites sympathetic to Mr Assad.

Six people were killed and about 50 wounded in fighting between the Sunni neighbourhood of Tabbaneh and the Alawite Jebel Mohsen, security and hospital sources said. The two sides exchanged rocket and gunfire, residents said.

Among the victims were a nine-year-old girl shot by a sniper.

Fighting in Beirut occurred on the edge of Tariq al-Jadida, a Sunni Muslim district that abuts Shia Muslim suburbs in the south of the capital.

Residents had earlier reported heavy overnight gunfire around Tariq al-Jadida between gunmen armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

Soldiers killed one gunman in Tariq al-Jadida, the army said, a Palestinian from a refugee camp who had shot at them.

The violence escalated on Sunday after thousands of people turned out in Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square for the funeral of Gen Hassan, who was buried with full state honours in an emotionally charged ceremony.

Troops in full combat gear and armoured personnel carriers stood guard at traffic intersections and government offices yesterday, with barbed wire and concrete blocks protecting buildings.

Beirut was noticeably quiet as people stayed at home because they feared being caught in more violence.

In the downtown area, many shops, offices and restaurants were shut or empty. – (Reuters)