Lebanon army intervenes in clashes

Special to The Times

The Lebanese army flooded the streets of the northern city of Tripoli with troops Saturday, restoring a precarious calm after fierce sectarian fighting left nine people dead in two days, a military official said.

Local television showed men firing machine guns and grenade launchers as street clashes raged between armed toughs loyal to Sunni Muslim leader Saad Hariri, who is backed by the West, and members of the Alawite Shiite Muslim sect, who are close to Syria and the Iranian-backed Shiite militia Hezbollah.

“A political decision, supported by the president, was taken to stop all those who try to destabilize the security of the country,” said a high-ranking army officer who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “Our soldiers will shoot at any source of fire.”


The latest fighting erupted amid renewed political tensions between the country’s U.S.-backed and Iranian-backed political camps, despite a recent agreement that headed off a descent into large-scale civil violence. The rival political groups accused each other of arming their supporters and instigating clashes to score political gains.

The dead included a child caught in the crossfire, the state-run news agency reported.

Although a new government formed two weeks ago put into effect a political accord brokered by Qatar in May, the newly appointed ministers have failed to come up with a policy statement accepted by all political groups.

Information Minister Tarek Mitri told a radio station Saturday that the disputes lie in defining the role of Hezbollah.

Heavily armed Hezbollah and its allies, which have veto power and hold one-third of the Cabinet posts, demand that the Shiite Muslim militant group retain its status as a parallel army in order to liberate a small parcel occupied by Israel. But the group’s political foes insist that the state is responsible for security matters.

Hezbollah made a swap with Israel this month, with the Jewish state freeing five Lebanese detainees in Israeli jails in exchange for the remains of two soldiers whose capture sparked the summer 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Deadly clashes in Tripoli had also occurred a few weeks ago. Tensions have recurred between Sunnis and Alawites, who share the religion of Syria’s ruling elite, since Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon in 2005.