Nine dead in Lebanon street battles over Syria

At least nine people have been killed in clashes between rival pro- and anti-Damascus gunmen in the northern city of Tripoli, testing Lebanon's fragile security situation, security sources said today.

Top local security, political and religious officials met and agreed on a ceasefire to take
effect at 1400 GMT, an AFP correspondent reported.

But nine civilians were wounded, caught up in sporadic shooting which erupted as people started to venture out into the streets after the ceasefire, security sources said.

Two people died in the latest violence after a bloody day yesterday which saw six people killed in street battles between gunmen from Sunni and Alawite groups, whose rival districts are symbolically divided by a thoroughfare called Syria Street.

Amid the ceasefire efforts, security sources said a ninth person died today of his injuries.
The army said it will open talks with city elders to restore stability and has also boosted its presence in the areas where the fighting has been taking place.

The latest round of fighting has rattled the already fragile security situation in Lebanon, which lived under three decades of Syrian domination and remains deeply divided between supporters and opponents of the Damascus government.

The dead in Tripoli included a 13-year-old boy, while more than 80 other people have been wounded, including a boy of six who was paralysed by a gunshot wound and 15 soldiers, security sources said.

The fighting with anti-tank rockets and automatic weapons first erupted late Monday in Tripoli, home to a Sunni community hostile to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a native of Tripoli, today raised fresh concern at "efforts to drag Lebanon more and more into the conflict in Syria when what is required is for leaders to cooperate ... to protect Lebanon from the danger."

The authorities have instructed the army and security forces "to bring the situation under control, to prohibit any armed presence and to arrest those implicated" in the violence, he said in a statement.

The army said: "In order to prevent attempts to drag the whole of Lebanon into a state of unrest ... the army command announces it will enter into dialogue with the city's leaders and officials, particularly in Bab al-Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen."

The United Nations, France and the United States have expressed concern over the latest flareup and warned against a spillover of the Syrian conflict.

"The situation in Lebanon has become more precarious and the need for continued international support to the government and the Lebanese Armed Forces increasingly important," UN under secretary general Jeffrey Feltman said.

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