Army to take over security in Tripoli after clashes in Lebanon kill 12

Fighting between Tripoli's Sunni and Alawite neighborhoods is latest spillover from war in neighboring Syria

Sunni Muslim fighters fire a weapon in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, on Saturday.
REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim

The Lebanese government has told the army to take over security in the restive coastal city of Tripoli for six months, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Monday, after 12 people were killed in sectarian clashes over the weekend.

The fighting, which pitted Alawite supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against Sunni sympathizers of the Syrian rebels, also wounded dozens in what is widely viewed as spillover from Syria's nearly three-year civil war.

Tripoli is mostly Sunni, with a large Christian minority, but fighting rarely spreads beyond two impoverished rival neighborhoods who have decades of bad blood between them. The Bab Tabbaneh district is largely Sunni Muslim, as are most of the Syrian rebels fighting against Assad's rule while residents of Jabal Mohsen, a neighborhood perched on a hill, are mostly of Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.

Mikati, a Sunni from Tripoli, told Lebanon's LBC television he had agreed with President Michel Suleiman and armed forces commander General Jean Qahwaji to "put Tripoli under the complete supervision of the army" for six months.

Mikati announced the decision after holding talks with Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and other security officials over the weekend to discuss how to end the violence, which erupted despite the deployment of soldiers in both districts.

Sectarian gun battles have broken out five times in Tripoli since March, killing more than 100 people, and twin car bombs at Sunni mosques in the city killed 42 people in August.

The latest clashes began Saturday after Sunni gunmen shot a man whose brother controls an Alawite militia, sparking gun battles that trapped children in schools and forced traders to flee their shops.

Tripoli residents said the sounds of heavy gunfire and rocket explosions echoed across Lebanon's second largest city from midnight to 6 a.m. Sunday. The state news agency said fighters used rocket-propelled grenades to target their rivals in the crowded neighborhoods.

Among the dead from two days of fighting in the coastal city was the popular owner of English-language radio station Tripoli FM, the station said on Monday. It was unclear who shot the owner, Radwan Ghariani, or why.

Lebanon's Daily Star reported that 120 members of a special police unit deployed in the two neighborhoods had successfully quelled the violence, and 480 more police provided additional support on Monday.

But the city remains on high alert with government buildings and businesses in the affected areas closed. Lebanese media reported that schools have asked parents to keep their children home Monday, fearing for their safety.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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Lebanon, Syria

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