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Death toll mounts in Lebanon as clashes erupt again
At least one person was killed in Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli on Thursday after fresh sectarian clashes erupted in pro and anti-Syrian neighbourhoods. The fighting, which began earlier this week, has claimed a total of nine lives.
AFP - Fresh sectarian clashes erupted between pro- and anti-Syrian districts in the north Lebanon port city of Tripoli on Thursday, leaving one person dead and seven wounded, a security official said.
"Sporadic clashes involving the use of rockets and machineguns began at around 4:00 am (0100 GMT) between the neighbourhoods of Bab al-Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen," said the official, who requested anonymity.
He identified the person killed as a teenager from Bab al-Tebbaneh.
The army, deployed in both neighbourhoods since Monday, withdrew slightly and fired into areas where the shooting was occurring, the official said.
By midday, the situation was calm although sporadic gunfire could be heard.
Jabal Mohsen is populated mainly by Alawites loyal to the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while residents of Bab al-Tebbaneh are mainly Sunni Muslims and support the opposition seeking to oust Assad.
Sectarian clashes between residents of the two districts earlier this week left nine people dead and some 50 wounded and sparked fears that the revolt in Syria could engulf its tiny neighbour.
The clashes broke out after the arrest of a Sunni Islamist on charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation.
His supporters say he was targeted for helping Syrian refugees fleeing the unrest in their country.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who hails from Tripoli, warned at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that the "fire was smouldering under the ashes" in the port city, local media reported on Thursday.
"Anything that happens in Syria is important as it has repercussions in Lebanon," Mikati also noted earlier in the week, adding that he was working to prevent the country being sucked into the revolt next door.
Since the outbreak of the uprising against Assad in March 2011, Tripoli has become a safe haven for activists and thousands of refugees fleeing the unrest that has left more than 12,000 people dead, according to a rights group.
Sectarian violence has flared on a number of occasions in the city since the revolt broke out but the latest escalation has been the deadliest.
It reflects a deep split between Lebanon's political parties where the opposition backs those leading the revolt in Syria while a ruling coalition led by the powerful Shiite Hezbollah supports Assad's regime.
Rifaat Eid, head of the Lebanese Arab Democratic Party, which represents the Alawite sect in the country, suggested at a press conference Wednesday that if the situation escalates in Tripoli, the Syrian army should be called in to restore the peace.
The Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Assad belongs and which has controlled Syrian politics for decades.
Syria long held sway in Lebanon politics and had troops stationed in the country for 29 years until it was forced to withdraw them in 2005 following the assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.
It has denied accusations that it was involved in his killing.