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French Version

Army deploys in Tripoli as violence continues

Laf 'will not act merely as a peacekeeping force'

The Lebanese Army stepped into the fray in Tripoli on Monday, after renewed violence between supporters of feuding Lebanese parties defied a cease-fire agreed upon the previous day and brought the casualty count to at least eight dead and 44 wounded during two days of fighting.

Intense clashes involving automatic weapons, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades resumed in the Bab al-Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen areas of Tripoli on Monday, and involved mostly Sunni March 14 partisans and Alawite members of opposition-affiliated groups.

A security source told The Daily Star on Monday that the intensity of clashes and "reported incidents of sniper fire" forced the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Internal Security Forces (ISF) to halt an initial deployment in the neighborhoods before waiting for "political cover" from local figures.

With both camps trading jabs over the deployment of the LAF in the conflict zones, a well-informed source said that the LAF presence, "while not welcomed enthusiastically, was tolerated in Bab al-Tebbaneh, in contrast to a more difficult move toward Jabal Mohsen."

At approximately 4:45 p.m. on Monday, the LAF and ISF launched a new push along the Al-Bakkar and Al-Qobbeh roads leading to the neighborhoods. A security source said that the LAF worked to gain the backing of local figures and strip the combatants of any political backing that may have been present and described the strategy on the ground as an attempt to split "hostile areas off from one another" before moving into each region alone.

Also Monday, the LAF command issued a statement saying that it "beefed up the army deployment and strengthened security measures" in areas affected by the fighting after "local religious and political figures" plead for calm and the cessation of armed hostilities. A source close to the matter told The Daily Star that the LAF "will not act merely as a peacekeeping force, but will respond forcibly to all [aggression] in the area."

Political reactions to the violence coming from local circles and the international community continued to pour in well into Monday evening. President Michel Sleiman was in continual contact with "local figures from North Lebanon, including the mufti of Tripoli, Sheikh Malek al-Shaar, reassuring concerned parties that the military would step in," according to Central News Agency reports. The report added that the president spent much of Monday "focusing his efforts on bringing about an end to the hostilities in Tripoli."

Meanwhile, Future Movement chief MP Saad Hariri urged residents of Tripoli to "stand together against attempts to sow civil strife in the city and efforts to explode a volatile situation in one region or another."

He added that "the city of Tripoli should cooperate with institutions of the state - the ISF and the LAF - which alone have the right to determine and resolve questions of security and authority."

Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Michel Aoun said Monday that the heavy fighting has surfaced because of "security negligence in the Bekaa and North Lebanon." The former general added that he had warned against factional arming in North Lebanon, but that he was then accused of "fabricating illusory battles by an official within the Future Movement."

In related news, Phalange Party leader and former President Amin Gemayel said Monday that "an armed [factional] presence in the [area of] Mount Sannine" has gone unnoticed. He insinuated that those responsible were "a group that kidnapped four youths from the Metn region who were picnicking in an area between the Metn and Kesrouan," but did not make an outright identification.

Finally, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir on Monday expressed his "regret and disappointment regarding the incidents occurring in North Lebanon." Sfeir asked how "the country can improve while each [political grouping] seeks its own interest?"

Beirut 24-06-2008
The Daily Star

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