BEIRUT — Violent clashes apparently linked to the conflict in neighboring Syria broke out overnight in the Lebanese city of Tripoli, leaving at least four people dead, including a soldier, residents said Sunday.
The fighting took place between Jabal Mohsen, an Alawite neighborhood where support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad is strong, and Bab Al Tibbaneh, a Sunni Muslim area. Assad is an Alawite, a minority sect linked to Shiite Muslims.
Activists in Tripoli said the clashes began after Islamists organized a sit-in protest in the main square of Tripoli to demand the release of a man detained Saturday and accused of terrorism. The protest came under fire from unknown gunmen, two Tripoli residents said.
“I was close to the square when I heard the gunfire and it continued all night. We couldn't sleep,” said Ahamd Mousa, a Syrian activist living in Tripoli.
“Until now, there are clashes but not as violent,” said Nader Hosni, another Syrian activist living in Tripoli. “Overnight, I heard RPG [rocket-propelled grenades] and rockets."
Conflicts between the neighborhoods are not uncommon. In February, similar fighting left two people dead.
On Sunday, the Lebanese army deployed in Tripoli and President Michel Suleiman called for a meeting of the Higher Defense Council, a body that oversees national security in Lebanon.
The man detained Saturday by General Security forces was identified as Shadi Mawlawy, a Tripoli resident who according to news reports and a security service statement was taken because of alleged ties to a terrorist organization. He reportedly was accused of smuggling arms to Syrian rebels.
"It is not the General Security domain to arrest people accused of terrorism in Lebanon," said an activist from Tripoli reached via phone who asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisal.
“General Security is controlled by Shiites, so having them interfering in this particular case of a man accused of terrorism and being in touch with Syrian groups seems suspicious in Tripoli," he said.
The case angered some Sunnis who feel "the Lebanese government is taking into consideration Shiite grievances but not Sunnis. There is a frustration that weapons of Hezbollah are tolerated and allowed but not Sunnis arming up," the activist added.
The YouTube video below purports to show armed men firing at Jabal Mohsen from nearby Bab Al Tibbaneh. The Times was not able to confirm its authenticity.
— Rima Marrouch
Photo: Sunni gunmen fire during clashes Sunday in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon. Credit: Hussein Malla / Associated Press.