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Guns fall silent in Tripoli after Army deploys

11 December 2012

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Calm returned to Tripoli Monday hours after the Lebanese Army deployed in its warring neighborhoods, ending a week of clashes that rattled Lebanon’s second city, killing 17 people and wounding dozens. The wave of violence was the fiercest in a series of clashes that raised fears of Syria’s 20-month-old unrest spilling over into Lebanon.

Army units deployed Sunday night in the neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, whose residents are supportive of President Bashar Assad and went into Bab al-Tabbaneh, where anti-Assad sentiment runs high, early Monday morning.

Heavy fighting erupted between the two neighborhoods early last week after news that a group of Lebanese Salafists from Tripoli and its environs were killed by the Syrian army in the Syrian town of Tal Kalakh. But hopes of a return to normalcy were rising after the Army began to implement its plan.

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“Schools might reopen Tuesday,” said 43-year-old Nada Sadeq, a Bab al-Tabbaneh resident who teaches at a public school in Minyeh.

Sadeq said she was happy to leave the house Monday after fighting forced her and her 9-year-old daughter to stay indoors.

She pointed out that shelling had for the first time hit near her residence on Mulla Street, some distance from the scene of the fighting.

“I hadn’t left the house for more than four days for my own safety and that of my daughter,” she told The Daily Star.

Elsewhere in Bab al-Tabbaneh, men gathered around coffee vendors, discussing the types of weapons used in the battles.

The streets were littered with broken glass and maintenance teams had yet to arrive to restore power and water services. Troops were moving carefully in and around the vegetable market on foot in an effort to maintain order.

Some in Bab al-Tabbaneh accuse the Army of being biased toward residents of Jabal Mohsen, and not all residents welcomed the troops.

In Jabal Mohsen, the scene was different. Residents looked visibly relieved after the Army deployment.

“Thank God the fighting stopped. I haven’t been able to go to work all last week,” Youssef al-Sheikh said as he rushed to check on a power generator he owns in Tripoli. Sheikh makes his living from the generator which distributes electricity.

“We have full confidence in the Army and we have repetitively called for it to handle security; we are not interested in fighting at all,” said Abdel-Latif Saleh, the media official of the Arab Democratic Party, which is influential in Jabal Mohsen. Refaat Eid, the head of ADP, will hold a news conference in Jabal Mohsen Tuesday.

The Army said in a statement that it boosted its units in Tripoli starting Sunday evening, based on a security plan laid down by the Army command in line with the Higher Defense Council’s decision over the weekend to crack down on the violence.

“These units intensified their patrols and checkpoints in the internal neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh along with the pursuit of gunmen and the elimination of sand barriers,” the Army said in a statement.

The Army reiterated its call for residents of the two neighborhoods to follow its instructions. “It also calls on all groups who were directly or indirectly related to the clashes to realize the delicacy of the situation in Tripoli.”

A military source said the security plan – which is to be carried out in stages – calls for the elimination of demarcation lines between Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh.

But security and political sources familiar with the situation in Tripoli voiced doubt that the most recent wave of violence would be the last, lamenting a lack of political will.

“When we see the Army and the Internal Security Forces ... confiscating arms from gunmen and everybody in Tripoli and a clear political decision in this regard, then we might expect that violence in Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen is over,” said one source.

The source said that the government is only willing to intervene to prevent one neighborhood from overrunning the other.

“In other words, it is forbidden that fighters from Bab al-Tabbaneh take over Jabal Mohsen under any condition,” said a source, adding that fighting could break out again at any moment and under any pretext. But President Michel Sleiman expressed hope that the Army’s campaign would restore calm permanently in Tripoli.

Chairing a Cabinet session at Baabda Palace, Sleiman said that fighting in Tripoli has nothing to do with the unrest in Syria.

“What is important is that we all support the Army and its efforts to restore security and boost trust among the Lebanese,” Sleiman said.

Mikati too praised during the session the decisions of the Higher Defense Council and the Army’s deployment in Tripoli, expressing his hope that the situation would remain stable there.

Al-Jadeed TV said that Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami lashed out at Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, questioning the effect of his repeated visits to Tripoli.

Karami suggested that Charbel meets with the heads of armed groups in the city and urges them to stop fighting, deriding him for doing jobs that aren’t his.

Based on a request by Mikati, Sleiman agreed to accelerate the implementation of development projects approved by the government earlier in the year for Tripoli, the north and other underdeveloped districts. Ministers at the meeting agreed that development would help diffuse the tension in those districts. – With additional reporting by Hasan Lakkis

© Copyright The Daily Star 2012.

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