Lebanon fears Syria uprising may spill across border
Gunfire and rocket propelled-grenades were used in the fighting that erupted over the weekend between the Alawite neighbourhood of Jabal Mohsen and the Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh, in the city of Tripoli.
The recent clashes that have raged in northern Lebanon, pitting loyalists against opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, have raised concerns that the 11-month unrest in Syria might spill over into its smaller neighbor.
"This situation requires decisive stances from the (Lebanese) president and various political leaders," Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told the Lebanese broadcaster New TV on Saturday.
Gunfire and rocket propelled-grenades were used in the fighting that erupted on Friday and Saturday between the predominantly Alawite neighbourhood of Jabal Mohsen and the mainly Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh, in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.
Witnesses say the fighting started when hundreds of people staged a protest against the Syrian government's deadly crackdown on the opposition.
Two people were killed and 19 others injured in the clashes, according to Lebanese medical sources.
Tripoli is dominated by Sunni Muslims, but it is also home to members of al-Assad's Alawite minority sect.
Tensions have been mounting between the two districts since the outbreak of the pro-democracy uprising in Syria in March, and at least two people were killed in infighting between the two neighborhoods in June.
A high-ranking military source told the Lebanese newspaper As Safir on Saturday that he feared the Tripoli clashes might be part of attempts to trigger unrest in Lebanon.
"The timing is suspicious and we hope this may not be an attempt to distract the army's attention from other affairs," the unnamed source said, without elaborating.
Lebanon's political scene is polarized between al-Assad's supporters, spearheaded by Hezbollah, and his opponents, led by the pro-Western March 14 Gathering.
"This division was inevitably going to be reflected on the vulnerable streets of Lebanon," said Shafik al Masri, a political analyst.
Mustafa Allouch, a Tripoli lawmaker who is also a member of the March 14 Gathering, told dpa: "The Syrian regime's loyalists are trying to destabilize northern Lebanon to divert attention away from what is happening in the nearby (Syrian) province of Homs."
Homs has been the target of a relentless clampdown by the Syrian government since the uprising started, according to the opposition.
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman promptly called on the Lebanese army to intervene to stop the Tripoli clashes, and Lebanese army troops deployed across the tense areas on Saturday managed to break a truce between the sides, according to media reports.
However, residents living in both districts were seen Saturday leaving their houses, taking advantage of the fragile lull.
"I'm leaving because I could feel tension is still there. I want to protect my family," said Mohammed Shabaan, a resident of the Bab al-Tabbneh district in northern Lebanon.
"It is just unsafe to stay in the area any more," he added.