A sniper killed a Sunni sheikh in the north Lebanon city of Tripoli yesterday, sparking new clashes between pro and anti-Syrian factions that dashed a tenuous truce, a security official said.
The death of Sheikh Khaled al-Baradei, 28, brought to 12 the number of people killed in fighting in the city over the past five days and stoked fears of a spillover of major violence from the conflict in neighboring Syria.
A further 86 people have been wounded.
The exchanges of rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire pitted fighters from the anti-Syrian Sunni Muslim Qobbeh District against those from the neighboring pro-Damascus Alawite district of Jabal Mohsen, a correspondent reported.
The intensity of the exchanges sparked large fires in the two neighborhoods in the east of the Mediterranean port city, Lebanon’s second largest.
Families hammered holes through the walls of their homes to escape to safety down makeshift ladders as the clashes raged.
The fighting continued until about 8:30am, when militiamen on both sides pulled back from the frontline.
“We were suprised by this battle,” said Abu Othman, a gunman from the Sunni side. “They are the ones who opened fire, the Jabal Mohsen people.”
Hundreds of soldiers with tanks and military vehicles have deployed on the aptly named Syria Street — which acts both as the dividing line between the two districts and as the frontline when fighting erupts.
The UN has called for more international support for Lebanese authorities.