Seven die in Lebanon clashes


At least seven people were killed and 22 others injured in gun battles between pro- and anti-Syrian groups in northern Lebanon today, security officials said, as activists reported fresh shelling in a region in central Syria where a massacre last week left more than 100 people dead.

The clashes were the latest to hit the Lebanese port of Tripoli.

Repeated outbreaks of violence in the city, the country’s second largest, are seen as a spillover from Syria’s conflict and has raised fears of an escalation in sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

The fighting in Tripoli started shortly before midnight yesterday and intensified today, the officials said.

Lebanon and Syria share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries, which are easily enflamed. Clashes in Tripoli last month killed at least eight people.

The conflict pits Sunni Muslims who support Syrian rebels trying to oust president Bashar Assad against members of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam of which Assad is a member.

Smoke was seen billowing from several apartments near the city’s Syria street, the split between the mainly Sunni Bab Tabbaneh neighbourhood and the adjacent, Alawite-majority Jabal Mohsen, on a hill overlooking its rival. The area around Syria street was mostly empty and gunmen were seen roaming the streets.

“We are being targeted because we support the Syrian people,” a Sunni gunman told Associated Press Television. “We are with you [Syrian people] and will not abandon you.” In Syria, activists said government troops fired shells at Houla, a cluster of farming villages in the central province of Homs where the UN says at least 108 people - including 49 children under the age of 10 - were killed on May 25th.

The opposition and the government have exchanged accusations over the massacre with each side blaming the other.

Syria has come under deep international isolation since its forces launched a ferocious crackdown on dissent nearly 15 months ago, but the Houla massacre has brought a new urgency in calls to end the crisis.