BEIRUT, Oct 22 – Deadly violence hit the Lebanese city of Tripoli overnight and several people were wounded in Beirut, security officials said on Monday, as tensions spiked following the murder of a top police official blamed on Syria.
In Tripoli, a Sunni Muslim bastion where opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is strong, three people were killed and 26 people wounded in heavy clashes with Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Assad belongs.
Police reported that a four-year-old girl was wounded in another incident.
Clashes have erupted regularly in Tripoli between pro- and anti-Assad supporters as tensions spill across the border from Syria, where a 19-month-old anti-regime revolt has left more than 34,000 people dead.
In the capital, six people were wounded after the army made a sweep through the Sunni district of Tariq Jdideh in pursuit of armed men, and automatic weapons and anti-tank rocket fire could be heard.
Soldiers prevented reporters and photographers from approaching the area, and the circumstances surrounding the shooting were unclear.
The wounded included four Lebanese, a Syrian and a Palestinian, police said.
Later in the day, armed supporters of opposition leader and former premier Saad Hariri blocked some streets in the capital, an AFP photographer reported.
Carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles, they cut off roads near Tariq Jdideh, a bastion of Hariri, who lives abroad for fear of his life. They used rubbish, rocks and scrap metal
Sunnis in multi-confessional Lebanon are furious after a car bomb blamed on Syria killed a top police officer on Friday. General Wissam al-Hassan was noted for pursuing alleged Syrian crimes in Lebanon, including the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, Rafiq.
“Nothing will remain as it was before,” said one of the armed men. “We will meet with Ahmad Hariri (head of the anti-Syrian Future movement and cousin of the opposition leader) to tell him we no longer accept being marginalised.”
Monday’s incidents come a day after General Hassan was laid to rest and amid calls for Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whose government is dominated by Shiite movement Hezbollah, to stand down.
Hezbollah is a strong ally of Assad and of Iran, and its militia is the most powerful military force in the country.
Following Hassan’s funeral, a few hundred young men tried to storm the Serail, the seat of government, but were driven back by police firing in the air and using tear gas.
Later, Hariri appealed to his partisans “to stay off the streets, because we want to oust this government by peaceful and democratic means.”
Lebanon is a multi-faith country in which Muslims make up about 64 percent of the population, evenly divided between Shiites and Sunnis. Christians make up most of the balance.