Renewed Syria-related fighting shatters truce in Lebanon
At least two die in renewed fighting between pro-Assad Alawites and anti-Assad Sunnis in Tripoli, amid renewed fears that the 18-month conflict in Syria could spill over into Lebanon.
Fresh fighting broke out Friday in northern Lebanon between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, shattering a fragile truce between the two sides.
At least two people, including a Sunni Muslim clergyman, were killed in the latest flare-up of violence in the port city of Tripoli, raising to 13 the number of deaths since fighting started on Monday, according to medical sources.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a native of Tripoli, said the army and security forces had been instructed "to bring the situation under control, prohibit any armed presence and arrest those implicated" in the violence.
A ceasefire was reached on Thursday between residents of the Sunni Muslim-dominated Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood and the nearby Jabal Mohsen, which is predominantly Alawite, the offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Assad belongs. However, the truce has since been violated, despite attempts by the army to keep the sides apart.
The violence comes just weeks before Pope Benedict XVI is due to visit Lebanon.
The fighting has renewed fears in Lebanon of a major spillover of the 18-month conflict in neighboring Syria.
In Syria itself, more residents of the embattled city of Aleppo were fleeing towards Turkey, activists in the northern city said. "The remaining residents of Aleppo, who have taken refuge in fairly safe areas of the city, started Friday to head towards the Turkish border," activist Mohamed Saaed said.
Women, children and elderly were seen packing their belongings and leaving inside vans from the Aleppo's old quarter, he added.
Turkey had recently warned that the number of Syrians entering its territory was reaching unsustainable levels.
Aleppo, Syria's biggest city and the country's commercial hub, has been the scene of fighting between government troops and rebels for several weeks now. Neither side has made long-lasting gains.
A rebel commander in Aleppo said that government forces were massing troops to launch a new offensive.
At least 220 people were killed across Syria on Thursday, mainly in Aleppo and the suburban areas of the capital Damascus, according to opposition activists.
Over 200,000 refugees
Meanwhile, the UN announced on Friday that more than 200,000 Syrians had fled to neighboring countries since the start of the conflict in the country.
"We are now at a much higher level of 202,512 refugees in the surrounding region," Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva on Friday. "In Jordan, a record 2,200 people crossed the border overnight and were received at Za'atri camp in the north," he said.
More than 3,500 people fleeing violence in Syria have entered Turkey over the past 24 hours, Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate said on Friday, one of the highest daily refugee flows since the start of the uprising last year.
Edwards, referring to Lebanon where 51,000 Syrian refugees are now registered, said: "The deteriorating security situation in Lebanon is hampering our work to help refugees fleeing Syria's conflict, though operations are continuing."