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Muslim Gunmen Fight Off Syrian-Backed Militiamen

United Press International

Thousands of Muslim gunmen, some holed up in a 12th-Century Crusader castle, fought off waves of assaults Sunday by Syrian-backed militiamen.

The Sunni Muslims’ Voice of the Nation said a morning offensive added another 70 dead and 150 wounded to a casualty toll of at least 200 killed and hundreds more wounded since clashes broke out in Tripoli on Sept. 15.

Despite a two-day-old Syrian-supported offensive, military sources said the Tawhid, or Islamic Unification Movement, remained firmly entrenched in the northern port city, Lebanon’s second-largest.

Under attack by the Arab Democratic Party militia and other pro-Syrian units, the Tawhid gunmen battled from heavily fortified bunkers, rooftop positions and the old castle overlooking the deserted city.

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Syrian sources told Radio Monte Carlo there were 7,000 Syrian soldiers ringing Tripoli while convoys of Syrian Soviet-made T-62 tanks and armored vehicles headed for the port.

There was no immediate confirmation of the report. Syria has denied involvement in the fighting, but witnesses reported seeing Syrian tanks and mortars firing at Tawhid positions Sunday.

Three weekend Syrian-backed offensives have cut off Tripoli from the rest of the country and left fires blazing out of control.

Fighting for control of Tripoli escalated after an overnight lull Sunday, 24 hours after Syria gave up mediation and unleashed its leftist Lebanese Muslim allies to uproot the Tawhid.

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Syria has demanded that Tawhid be disarmed and that Syrian troops join Lebanese army units to control the predominantly Sunni Muslim city.

Tawhid, with an estimated force of 3,000 men backed by several hundred anti-Syrian Palestinians loyal to Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, has rejected the Syrian demands.

A combined force of several thousand militiamen from four pro-Syrian leftist parties made limited advances along a mile-long stretch of highway at the southern entrance of Tripoli on Sunday but were later halted by Tawhid fighters, witnesses reported.

The fighting and the massive artillery barrages have forced thousands of civilians to flee. A police spokesman in Batroun, a Christian town 16 miles south of Tripoli, said at least 30,000 people had taken refuge there.

More than half of the city’s 500,000 inhabitants have fled since the fighting began two weeks ago.


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