Syrian bloodshed spills into Beirut (AFP) AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE) By Rana Moussaoui 05/21/12)
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Street battles between pro- and anti-Syrian groups in Beirut killed
two people on Monday, a security official said, sparking concerns of
a wider conflict in Lebanon.
The violence erupted hours after reports emerged that troops had shot
dead Sheikh Ahmad Abdul Wahid, a prominent anti-Syria Sunni cleric,
when his convoy failed to stop at a checkpoint in north Lebanon on
Sunday. Another cleric in the car was also killed.
Washington expressed concern over the killings and urged restraint.
"We welcome the commitment of the Lebanese government and the
Lebanese Armed Forces to conduct a swift and transparent
investigation of the shooting incident," US State Department deputy
spokesman Mark Toner said.
"And we call on all parties to exercise restraint and respect for
Lebanon´s security and stability," he said.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon also called "on all parties to make every effort
to restore calm".
The UN head said Derek Plumbly, Special Coordinator for Lebanon,
was "engaged on the ground, encouraging all concerned to work for
sustained calm and stability in the country".
He also stressed the "need for Lebanon´s continuing stability", and
encouraged "all Lebanese parties to strengthen their efforts to date
to overcome any emerging challenges on the ground".
In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she
was "deeply concerned at the outbreaks of violence in Tripoli and
"These events must be duly investigated and followed by Lebanon´s law
enforcement authorities," she said.
Protesters blocked roads and burned tyres in the northern region of
Akkar following the killing of the clerics, and by evening the unrest
had spread to the capital.
"During the night, groups of young men cut off the road in the Tareek
el-Jdideh district and street battles followed," the security
official said, requesting anonymity.
"Two people were killed and 18 were wounded," he said, adding
machineguns had been fired and that the fighting had raged until
about 3:00 am (2400 GMT).
An office housing a small pro-Syrian party in Tareek el-Jdideh, a
mainly Sunni Muslim neighbourhood of west Beirut, was torched by
partisans of ex-premier Saad Hariri´s Future Movement and the facade
of the building was riddled with bullets.
Several motorcycles and cars parked on the street below were burned.
Calm had been restored by daylight following appeals from Prime
Minister Najib Mikati and other politicians.
However tension was palpable in the capital, where residents fear a
repeat of sectarian clashes like those that left some 100 people dead
in 2008 and brought the country close to civil war.
"I´ve had enough... of war," said Amal Khattab, a 40-year-old teacher
and mother of two who lives in Tareek el-Jdideh.
"My children were terrified last night," she added, crying. "I can´t
spend another minute in this country."
Wahid´s funeral was held on Monday in his hometown of El Bireh, in
the northern Akkar region, where many businesses and shops were
closed after Sunni religious leaders called for three days of
"We want a fair trial, and we want the killers of Sheikh Ahmad Abdul
Wahid to be executed," Future Movement MP Khaled al-Daher said at the
A judicial official said military police were questioning 21
soldiers, including three officers, in relation to the death of the
Their killing followed a week of intermittent clashes between Sunnis
hostile to the Syrian regime and Alawites who support it which left
10 people dead in the northern port city of Tripoli.
Late on Monday, two rockets were fired in Tripoli, one landing in a
predominantly Alawite neighbourhood and the other between Jabal
Mohsen and Bab al-Tebbaneh, which is mainly Sunni, a security
The violence has highlighted a deep split between Lebanon´s political
parties, where the opposition backs those leading the uprising
against Assad while a ruling coalition led by Shiite militant group
Hezbollah supports the Damascus regime.
The Sunni-led opposition has accused Assad of seeking to sow chaos in
Lebanon in order to relieve the pressure on his embattled regime.
Reflecting mounting fears of an escalation, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar
and the United Arab Emirates urged their citizens to avoid travel to
Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, a high-ranking member of Hezbollah, hit out at
the opposition on Monday accusing it of transforming the north of the
country into a rear base for Syrian rebels.
"The opposition has intentionally dragged Lebanon into the Syrian
crisis and transformed into into a corridor and base for armed
Syrians," he told a rally in the eastern city of Baalbek.
Since the outbreak of the revolt in Syria in March of last year,
thousands of Syrians fleeing the unrest in their country as well as
activists have sought refuge in northern Lebanon.
Syria long held sway in Lebanese politics and had troops stationed in
the country for 29 years until it was forced to withdraw them in 2005
following the assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.
It has denied accusations it was involved in his killing. (Copyright
© 2012 Agence France Presse. 05/21/12)
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