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Pro-Hizbollah Sunni cleric attacked in Lebanon shooting

Gunmen opened fire on a prominent pro-Hezbollah Sunni cleric in southern Lebanon today but failed to hit him, security officials said.

BEIRUT // Gunmen opened fire on a prominent pro-Hezbollah Sunni cleric in southern Lebanon today but failed to hit him, security officials said.

The attack on Sheikh Maher Hammoud in the port city of Sidon is another sign that Syria's civil war has spilt over into neighbouring Lebanon, raising fears that fighting between factions supporting opposing sides in the conflict next door will reignite Lebanon's own explosive sectarian mix.

Mr Hammoud narrowly escaped being assassinated as he was walking from his home in Sidon south of Beirut to the Al Quds Mosque where he preaches, the officials said. He was unhurt, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Mr Hammoud is a longtime supporter of Lebanon's Shiite Muslim Hizbollah group, whose role in Syria's civil war has become more public in recent weeks. They fight on behalf of President Bashar Al Assad's regime, dominated by Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam, and dozens have been killed in an continuing battle for the strategic Syrian town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon.

Sidon is a majority Sunni Muslim city, and many Lebanese Sunnis back Syria's Sunni-dominated rebels.

Rival sectarian factions have frequently clashed inside Lebanon during the 2-year-old conflict.

Clashes raged into the night Sunday between Sunnis and Alawites in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli, killing one person and wounding at least 14 people, according to Lebanon's state-run National News Agency. On Monday, gun battles subsided in Tripoli, although there was still sniper activity in several neighbourhoods most affected by the fighting, the official news service said. Lebanese army is patrolling the city and universities, schools and business have opened, it added.

Over the weekend, three rockets from Syria struck northeastern Lebanon and 18 rockets and mortar rounds hit Lebanon's eastern Baalbek region, a Hizbollah stronghold.

From Saturday night into Sunday, Hizbollah encircled and ambushed Syrian rebels and allied Lebanese fighters whom they suspected of rocketing Baalbek, a Lebanese security official said.

A Hizbollah fighter and several rebels were killed in the clashes in a remote area near the Syrian border, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Associated Press writer Zeina Karam contributed to this report.