Syria's civil war combat spilling into Lebanon
Lebanese supporters and opponents of Syria's President Bashar Assad fired heavy machine guns and lobbed mortar shells at each other Thursday in some of the worst fighting in years in Lebanon's port city of Tripoli.
The battles raised the five-day death toll to 16 and feed fears of Syria's civil war spreading to Lebanon and other neighboring countries.
The violence also adds to the urgency to U.S.-Russian efforts to bring both sides of the Syrian conflict to a peace conference in Geneva. Members of Syria's opposition began three day meetings in Turkey to hash out a unified position on whether to attend, while maintaining that Assad's departure from power should be the goals of the negotiations.
Lebanon has been on edge since the uprising in Syria began in March 2011. The country, which still is struggling to recover from its own 15-year civil war, is sharply divided along sectarian lines and into pro and anti-Assad camps. The overt involvement by Iranian-backed Hezbollah Shiite militant group alongside Assad's regime has sparked outrage among many Sunnis in Lebanon, who identify with the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels fighting to topple Assad.
Deadly sectarian street fighting has erupted on several occasions, mostly in Tripoli, Lebanon's largest city and a hotbed for Sunni Islamists. This week's fighting there has been linked to a Syrian regime offensive against the rebel-held city of Qusair in western Syria that has included Hezbollah fighters supporting Syrian troops against the rebels.
Tripoli is overwhelmingly Sunni but has a tiny community of Alawites, members of Assad's minority sect, which is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Residents reported more than six hours of fighting that began late Wednesday and continued through Thursday morning. Mortar shells were used for the first time. Ambulances rushed back and forth, transporting casualties to hospitals as officials used mosque loudspeakers to urge citizens to take shelter in basements. Schools and many businesses were shuttered Thursday as sporadic fighting continued.
Five people were killed, pushing the overall death toll to 16 since fighting began Sunday, with 200 people wounded, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.
“It was a frightful night that instilled terror in the heart of every resident of Tripoli,” said Shada Dabliz, a 40-year-old peace activist in the city. “Tripoli is part of Lebanon, where is the state? Why doesn't the government do anything?”
Cabinet minister Faisal Karami said the fighting was among the worst in the city since Lebanon's civil war that ended in 1990, according to comments reported by Lebanon's state-run National News Agency.
Ashraf Rifi, a former police chief who has a large Sunni following in Tripoli, said the flare-up in Tripoli was a direct result of Hezbollah's involvement in Syria and accused the group of “trying to deflect attention” from its participation in the fighting in Syria.
Hezbollah and its allies held a dominant role in the Lebanese government, which resigned in March but continues to function on a caretaker basis. Various Lebanese factions have been unable to agree on the formation of a new government.
Fighting in Qusair continued for a fifth day Thursday, after Syrian opposition leaders urged rebels from elsewhere to converge on the town, which is strategically important to both sides.
The regime would solidify control in the heavily populated west if it retakes the town, which links the capital Damascus with the Alawite heartland along the Mediterranean coast. For the rebels, predominantly Sunni Qusair is part of a supply line of weapons and fighters from Lebanon.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition group, said Thursday that 46 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in the battle for Qusair. In the past, Hezbollah tried to play down its involvement in the civil war, but its high-profile role in Qusair has made that impossible. Hezbollah has held funerals for fighters who officials close to the group say died at Qusair.
Overall, at least 104 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Syria in recent months, according to the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources in Syria.
Hezbollah's growing involvement has prompted international condemnation. European officials said Wednesday that the European Union is reassessing whether to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization, a move it has long shied from despite pressure from the U.S.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Putin sends air defense missiles to Syria to deter Turkey
- Russian pilot rescued by Syrian commando unit
- Liberia has 1st Ebola death since being deemed free of disease in September
- Turkey shoots down Russian jet it says violated its airspace
- Tunisia put under state of emergency
- Official: Paris attacks organizer was planning more carnage
- ISIS claims hotel attack in Egypt
- At least 20 killed after jihadists attack Malian hotel
- Social media drives Cuban exodus to United States
- Italian journalists’ books broaden Vatican scandal of greed, corruption
- Pakistani doctor who led CIA to bin Laden stuck in prison