TRIPOLI, Lebanon – Firing assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, Lebanesegunmen clashed in street battles Monday as sectarian tensionslinked to the 14-month-old uprising in Syria bled across the borderfor a third day. At least five people have been killed and 100 wounded in Lebanon’ssecond-largest city since the gunbattles erupted late Saturday,security officials said. Residents say differences over Syria areat the root of the fighting, which pits neighbor against neighborand raises fears of broader unrest that could draw in neighboringcountries. Lebanon and Syria share a complex web of political and sectarianties and rivalries, which are easily enflamed. Tripoli has seenbouts of sectarian violence in the past, but the fighting hasbecome more frequent as the conflict in Syria worsens.
The fighting camps break down along sectarian and political lines.On one side are Sunni Muslims who support the rebels trying to oustSyrian President Bashar Assad. On the other are members of the tinyAlawite sect, followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam who areAssad’s most loyal supporters. The recent clashes were sparked by the arrest of Lebanese nationalShadi Mawlawi, an outspoken critic of Assad. The Sunni fighters saythe root of the latest conflict in Tripoli is across the border. “Syria.
It wants it this way. It wants to start a battle here so itcan say, look, even in Lebanon the Sunnis are killing theAlawites,” said Mustafa Nashar, 35, whose family lives in anapartment overlooking Syria Street, which cuts through theoverwhelmingly Sunni Bab al-Tabbani neighborhood. Posters supporting the Syrian opposition hang on walls, andpictures of a local activist shot by a sniper in similar clashes inFebruary read “Greetings to the free martyrs of Syria” and bear theSyrian revolutionary flag. Groups of men, many carrying assault rifles and wearingmilitary-style vests, ducked through trash-strewn alleys. Theresidents who remained in the neighborhood took cues from fightersabout when to sprint across alleys to evade the snipers up thehill. Flat Oval Tube
A car with children crouching in the back sped past one alley, abullet pinging the pavement behind it. The Lebanese army set up a small position a few hundred meters(yards) away from the fighting, but no soldiers or police could beseen in the immediate area. Mohammed Jaber, a 49-year-old fighter and Tripoli resident, saidlocal fighting has been going on for decades in Tripoli, but theSyria unrest has set it off again. “The old has become new,” he said. Flat Oval Tube
“Once the Syrian revolutionstarted, we supported all efforts to get rid of the regime.” Sunnis comprise the majority in Syria, but Assad and his fellowAlawites play an outsized role in the country’s government andsecurity forces, prompting seething resentments. Inspired by therevolts in Tunisia and Egypt, Syrian protesters defied theauthoritarian regime and began taking to the streets in March 2011to call for political reform. But a relentless government crackdownled many in the opposition to take up arms. Some soldiers also haveswitched sides and joined the rebels. World powers have backed a peace plan for Syria that was putforward by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, but the bloodshed hasnot stopped. China Pharmaceutical Flexible Packaging
More than 100 U.N. observers have been deployed inSyria to oversee a truce between the government and armed rebels.The U.N. estimates the conflict has killed more than 9,000 people. On Monday, Syrian troops shelled the rebel-held town of Rastan,sparking intense clashes that sent bloodied victims flooding intohospitals and clinics, activists said. An amateur video posted online Monday showed gunmen apparentlytaking control of an army position that was being used to shellRastan.
The video showed a tank, an armored personnel carrier and amilitary truck in flames. “The raid liberated the military position,” the narrator said. Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatoryfor Human Rights, said 23 soldiers were reportedly killed in theclashes. He cited rebel fighters but did not identify them, and theaccount could not be independently confirmed.
Rastan, just north of the restive city of Homs, has been underrebel control since January. The Observatory and the activist LocalCoordination Committees said the latest shelling of Rastan startedon Sunday. An amateur video showed a young girl who apparently sufferedshrapnel wounds in her thigh undergoing treatment in a makeshiftRastan hospital while screaming in pain. Asked where her motherwas, the girl cried: “She died!” Another video showed four dead men, half of their bodies covered ina green sheet.
Also Monday, the Observatory and the LCC said government troopsstormed the Damascus suburb of Qaboun, where they conducted raidsand deployed snipers on roofs of buildings. In Brussels, the European Union imposed visa bans and asset freezesMonday on three new people associated with the Syrian regime— bringing to 128 the number of Assad supporters targeted bythe bloc. Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief CatherineAshton, said two Syrian entities also were added to the boycottlist, which now includes 43 Syrian companies, banks and otherorganizations. The new measures, the 15th round of EU sanctions against Assad’sregime and its supporters, were adopted at a meeting of EU foreignministers. The bloc will name the individuals and entities involvedon Tuesday, Mann said.
In Damascus, state-run TV said the results of last week’sparliamentary elections will be made public Tuesday. The governmenthas praised the vote as a milestone in promised political reforms,but the opposition boycotted the polls and said they were designedto strengthen Assad’s grip on power. ____ Mroue reported from Beirut.