Army, gunmen trade fire in Beirut

2012-10-23 09:08

Beirut - Lebanese troops deployed in Sunni areas of the capital as more sectarian violence erupted, stoking fresh fears after a top security official was killed in a bombing blamed on neighbouring Syria.

The army said it was determined to restore order, but the northern port of Tripoli was also shaken on Monday by fighting between partisans and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad that killed seven people.

On Monday afternoon personnel carriers entered Beirut's Sunni district of Tariq Jdideh, which had been a hotspot all day. Soldiers took up position on streets leading into the district to keep them open, a military spokesperson said.

Six people were wounded when the army made a pre-dawn sweep of Tariq Jdideh in pursuit of armed men, and automatic weapons and anti-tank rocket fire could be heard.

Later, soldiers responded after being fired on as they tried to clear a road into the district, a stronghold of opposition leader Saad Hariri. His supporters had blocked it despite calls by the former premier to stay off the streets.

The army spokesperson said a 20-year-old Palestinian, Ahmad Quaider, was shot after firing at an army patrol.

In Tripoli, a Sunni bastion where opposition to Assad is strong, seven people were killed and 12 wounded during clashes between Sunnis and Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which the Syrian president belongs, security sources said.

Two Alawites and five Sunnis died.

The same sources reported snipers in the city late on Monday.

Most powerful military force

Clashes have erupted regularly in Tripoli as tensions spill over the border from Syria, where a 19-month-old anti-regime revolt has left more than 34 000 people dead.

Lebanon has been on edge since Friday, when police intelligence chief General Wissam al-Hassan died in the Beirut bombing.

The attack sparked immediate calls for Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whose cabinet is dominated by Syrian ally Hezbollah, to resign.

Hezbollah's militia, which never disarmed after the 1975-90 civil war, is the most powerful military force in Lebanon.

A statement from the army high command said it was "committed to its role of stopping security breaches and maintaining civil order".

The statement acknowledged that the country was "going through a critical time," but said the army would act to prevent the assassination of Hassan being exploited as an opportunity to murder the nation as a whole".

Lebanon is a multi-faith country in which Christians, Shiite and Sunni Muslims each make up about one-third of the population.

Under a complex but unwritten arrangement, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the premier a Sunni and the speaker of parliament a Shiite.

Sunnis are furious over what they call the Syrian assassination of Hassan, also a Sunni, who was noted for pursuing alleged Syrian crimes in Lebanon including the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father, Rafiq.

National unity

Sunday's funeral for Hassan, who was intelligence chief of the Internal Security Forces, had been billed as an opportunity to protest against Syrian meddling in Lebanon. But the mood quickly turned to fury at Mikati.

After former premier Fuad Siniora, speaking at the funeral, joined calls for Mikati to resign, a few hundred young men tried to storm the Serail, the seat of government. Police drove them back by firing in the air and using tear gas.

Mikati said on Saturday he would stay, at President Michel Sleiman's request, to avoid a "political vacuum" in the volatile country.

Later, Hariri appealed to his supporters "to stay off the streets, because we want to oust this government by peaceful and democratic means".

Lebanese university professor Ghassan al-Azzi said Hariri is focusing his political fire on Mikati, rather than taking on Hezbollah head on, because "if you take Hezbollah on directly, it means without a doubt that you are in favour of civil war".

Clashes between Sunni and Shiite gunmen in Beirut in 2008 brought Lebanon close to a new civil war and there are fears it will be further destabilised by the conflict in Syria.

The envoys to Beirut of the UN Security Council's permanent members met Sleiman and called for national unity.

US officials said on Monday they would send a team from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help Lebanon investigate the Beirut car bombing.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed Washington's support for Lebanon's sovereignty, in a phone call with Mikati.

  • duncan.gill1 - 2012-10-23 15:13

    My heart goes out to the people of Lebanon who have to pay the price for US and NATO interference in Syria...may the wheel turn full circle for these interfering nations!

      allcoveredinNinjas - 2012-10-23 15:24

      US and Nato , thats who they blaming ! Wholly s7%t , of course Syria and hizbollah have no connection and the Syrian regime would never interfere in Lebanons affairs.......(cough) Rafic Hariri (Cough)... 1976 occupation .

  • shane.loxton - 2012-10-23 19:22

    Looks like the US/NATO/Israeli middle east domino plan is continuing to metastasize and Lebanon is apparently now in their expansionist cross hairs. You really think this recent attack on the Syrian government palace wasn’t another staged and covertly sponsored “color revolution” reactivation charade? C’mon. The stated plan to “cordon off” Lebanon and Syria was penned in 1996 in the Israeli/American authored “Clean Break Report” (see below) and was further outlined in the famous PNAC Report. While the Syrian invasion by NATO and Israeli backed forces masquerading as freedom fighters continues, it was only a matter of time before Lebanon too would be roped into this engineered takeover of the region, affording another front for the take down of Syria and further expanding Israel’s NATO backed presence in the region.

      shane.loxton - 2012-10-23 19:23

      Two months ago a very peculiar event took place that presaged these further moves. Why would three Arab countries publicly warn their citizens to get out of Lebanon when these types of events have gone on for years? This was before things started heating up exponentially in Syria. Clearly they were warned of the coming provocations. The major Gulf Arab states are almost all in on the whole staged plan. Whatever they’ve been promised for cooperating with the US, NATO and Israeli plans, you can be sure big time blackmail and strong arming is involved. Wish they’d wise up, because it will end in total betrayal anyway. That’s OK though if it takes out this wicked house of Saud and all their bought off minions. Whatever we conjecture, this announced “spillover”, no doubt staged, was a clear signal.

      shane.loxton - 2012-10-23 19:26

      You couldn’t have a more strategic move than taking Lebanon. Israeli (and NATO) military would be perfectly placed for an attack on Syria. With both of those nations neutralized, the Iran war is just a (nuclear) stone’s throw away. Here’s the article from BBC News: Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar urge Lebanon exodus The al-Meqdad clan said they had acted to force the release of a man held in Damascus ‘Three Arab states have urged their citizens to leave Lebanon amid signs that the conflict in Syria is spilling over into its western neighbour. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar urged immediate action after a string of kidnappings of Sunni Muslims by a powerful Shia clan. They were retaliating for the abduction of a clan member by rebels in Damascus. The rebels say the man was fighting for the Syrian government on behalf of Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah movement.

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