Mon, May 12, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Heavy fighting erupts in Tripoli, Beirut falls quiet


A Lebanese opposition supporter puts a tire onto a burning roadblock in downtown Beirut on Saturday.


Heavy fighting broke out between pro and anti-government supporters in northern Lebanon lasting into the early hours of yesterday morning, in the latest development in the Lebanese crisis, security officials reported.

Beirut, which for four days was the focus of bloody sectarian clashes between Sunnis and Shiites, spent a quiet night, though yesterday morninga many of its roads remained blocked, including the one to the airport, by the opposition’s civil disobedience campaign.

The heaviest clashes took place in the northern city of Tripoli, where pro-government supporters in the Tebaneh neighborhood exchanged rocket propelled grenades and heavy machine gun fire with opposition followers in Jabal Muhsin, officials said.

One woman was killed in the clashes, bringing the toll across the country for the past five days of violence to 38 — the worst sectarian violence since Lebanon’s 1975 to 1990 civil war.

By morning, the situation in the north grew calm as Lebanese troops deployed between the two sides, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Beirut’s streets were largely deserted yesterday, a day off in Lebanon. In the western Beirut neighborhood of Karakol Druse, which saw heavy fighting on Thursday, a man swept glass from outside his shop. A gaping hole from a rocket propelled grenade and bullet holes marked the facade of a normally busy bakery, now closed.

Inside neighborhoods, there was no one openly carrying weapons, save for small knots of gunmen from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) sitting outside the Economy Ministry in the western district of Hamra and in the seaside Rawshe area.

On Beirut’s normally bustling seaside corniche, workers outside five-star hotels were cleaning the blackened streets scarred by burning tires.

Elsewhere along the seaside, youth from the pro-Syrian Shiite Amal movement blocked the road with rocks and burning tires, directing the rare motorist to side roads.

The two-story building housing the archives of top Sunni leader Saad Hariri’s Future TV — set on fire by SSNP militiamen on Friday — was still smoldering.

At midday, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and some of his ministers and staff members held a moment of silence at the government building in honor of people killed in the violence. A nearby downtown church tolled its bells to mark the moment.

Scores of people stood in the streets or on their balconies in silence waving red, white and green Lebanese flags in response to Saniora’s call.

“The situation is still unstable and unclear. I am waiting for a solution like all Lebanese,” lawyer Nabil Sility, 60, said as he took laundry to wash at an in-law’s because he has not had electricity since Friday morning.

“There will be no civil war. The Lebanese tried it before and it was a catastrophe,” said the Greek Orthodox Christian, a resident of Muslim western Beirut since birth.

In the eastern Bekaa Valley, sporadic clashes took place between the two groups in different towns and villages. The road leading to the main border crossing point with Syria was still closed by pro-government supporters in retaliation for the opposition’s closure of the airport road.

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