The army has been authorized by the Lebanese government to take charge of security in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, for the next six months. After a high-level security meeting at the presidential palace, the decision was announced by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati. In August, twin bombings outside Sunni mosques that killed 47 people and wounded scores caused tensions in the city to soar. Now the violence seems to be spreading to other districts in Tripoli.
The authorization came after a series of deadly sectarian clashes by rival sides resulting from the civil war in neighboring Syria. Tripoli is only 18 miles (30 kilometers) from the Syrian border. In Tripoli, sectarian clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad often flare. Syria’s rebels are dominated by its Sunni Muslim majority, attracting Lebanese Sunnis in the Bab Tabbaneh district of the city, while Lebanese Shiites of the Jabal Mohsen district support those loyal to the Assad regime. Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group, has played a critical role in recent battlefield victories for forces loyal to Assad.
Many fear that the fighting is spreading out of control in the northern port city and that the violence could result in chaos in Lebanon. Schools, universities and some businesses were closed as the sound of occasional gunfire rang out. Tripoli’s landmark Abu Ali Square was largely deserted. Khaled Tutunji, a worker at a construction material shop near Abu Ali Square, said, “I am worried about Tripoli. In the past, we did not know who is a Sunni and who is Alawite.”
The army has been largely unable to stop the violence. This year, dozens of soldiers have been killed and wounded in Tripoli after being caught in the crossfire between rival gunmen. Gun battles and rocket fire rage out of control and snipers are taking up positions on rooftops. In the latest fighting that broke out, at least 12 people were killed and more than 100 were wounded. The armored vehicles of the Lebanese military patrol the streets and help carry terrified civilians to safe places, while ambulances take casualties to hospitals.