Gunfights in Lebanon amid simmering tension

Army vows firm action to curb violence following deaths in the wake of intelligence chief’s assassination
Lebanon’s army says Lebanon is in critical phase and has pledged to act firmly [AFP]

Gunfights have broken out in several areas of Lebanon following the funeral of anti-Syrian intelligence official Wissam al-Hassan on Sunday.

At least three people were killed overnight as rival gunmen exchanged fire in Tripoli, a northern city where residents opposed to and supportive of the Syrian regime have clashed on several occasions.

On Monday, clashes between Lebanese troops and unidentified armed men took place in Beirut, the capital, according to the AFP news agency.

Soldiers responded after they came under fire as they tried to re-open a road to Tariq Jadida, a Sunni Muslim district that neighbours Shia Muslim suburbs in the south of the city.

Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from Beirut, said the army was deployed in the area following the clashes, vowing to restore order.
Army warning

The army warned that targeting public or private institutions crossed a “red line”, and it would respond.

“The last few hours have proven without a doubt that the country is going through a decisive and critical time and the level of tension in some regions is rising to unprecedented levels,” a statement issued by the army leadership said on Monday.


Funeral for slain Lebanon official ends in violence

“We call on all political leaders to be cautious when expressing their stances and opinions… because the fate of the country is on the line”, the strongly worded statement said.

While pledging to leave politicians to find a political solution to the crisis triggered by Friday’s assassination of Hassan, the army also pledged “to stamp out any security violation and safeguard national peace”.

“The army leadership reiterates, by action not words, that security is a red line, and likewise the targeting of official institutions and violation of private and public property,” it said.

Residents had earlier reported heavy overnight gunfire around Tariq al-Jadida between gunmen armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

Protesters overnight blocked roads in Beirut with burning tyres, including the highway to the airport.

The capital was noticeably quieter than normal on Monday. Many people stayed at home for fear of violence and the streets were free of the usual traffic chaos.

Hassan, a Sunni, was killed by a car bomb in the capital on Friday. He was the head of the intelligence branch of the Internal Security Forces and an outspoken critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The blast occurred in a busy street in the mainly Christian district of Ashrafiyeh, killing Hassan, his bodyguard and a civilian.

Tension prevails

Thousands of people attended Hassan’s state funeral in Beirut, which rapidly became a political rally against both Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Syria.

Many politicians have accused Syria of being behind the killing and angry protesters tried to storm the government palace after Hassan’s funeral on Sunday.

Opposition leaders and their supporters want Mikati to resign, saying he is too close to Assad and his Lebanese ally Hezbollah, which is part of Mikati’s government.

Mikati did offer to stand down on Saturday, but President Michel Suleiman asked him to stay on in the national interest.

Memories are still vivid in Lebanon of the death and destruction of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war. Heavily-armed soldiers and police were out in force at street junctions and government buildings.

Opposition leaders have urged their supporters to refrain from any more violence.

“We want peace, the government should fall, but we want that in a peaceful way. I call on all those who are in the streets to pull back,” former prime minister and opposition leader Saad al-Hariri said on the Future Television channel on Sunday evening.

Source: Al Jazeera And Agencies

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