x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Gun battles across Lebanon as political crisis deepens

Lebanese troops and gunmen exchanged fire in Beirut's southern suburbs today as at least four people are killed and dozens wounded in sectarian fighting.

BEIRUT // Lebanese troops and gunmen exchanged fire in Beirut's southern suburbs tonday, wounding five people, deepening a political crisis following the assassination of a senior intelligence official, security and medical sources said

Four people were also killed, including a 9-year-old girl, and 12 wounded in clashes between gunmen in the northern city of Tripoli, the sources said.

The violence heightened fears that the civil war in neighbouring Syria could be spreading into Lebanon, upsetting its delicate political balance and threatening to usher in a new era of sectarian bloodshed.

Lebanon has been boiling since Friday after Brigadier General Wissam Al Hassan, an intelligence chief opposed to the Syrian leadership, was assassinated in a car bombing.

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 Najib Mikati, the prime minister, to resign, saying he is too close to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and his Lebanese militant ally Hizbollah, which is part of Mikati's government.

The clashes in Beirut yesterday morning took place on the edge of Tariq Al Jadida, a Sunni Muslim district that neighbours Shiite Muslim suburbs in the south of the capital.

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

In Tripoli, a 9-year-old girl shot by a sniper was one of three people killed in overnight clashes. Nine people were wounded, medical and security sources said.

The sources said the two dead men were from the Sunni Muslim district of Bab Al Tabbaneh and were killed after gunmen there exchanged rocket and gunfire with the mainly Alawite neighbourhood of Jebel Mohsen.

In a later incident on Monday morning, a woman was killed and three people wounded by gunfire in the Alawite district. Tripoli has frequently been hit by clashes between Sunnis and Alawites sympathetic to different sides in the Syria war.

Thousands of people had turned out in Beirut's downtown Martyrs' Square for Hassan's funeral yesterday but that ended in violence, with security forces firing tear gas and shots in the air as hundreds tried to storm the prime minister's office.