TRIPOLI, Lebanon (AFP) – The Lebanese army has restored calm in the northern port city of Tripoli after deadly clashes sent 2,000 families fleeing to safer areas, a security official said on Sunday.
“Calm has been restored in Tripoli and no gunfire or firing of rockets has been recorded since 5 pm (1400 GMT) on Saturday,” the official told AFP, asking not to be named.
Militants from the rival Sunni Muslim and Alawite (Shiite) communities had battled with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons since Thursday night, leaving five dead and about 50 others wounded.
Army reinforcements were sent in on Saturday to halt the clashes, with dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles deployed in the mainly Sunni Bab al-Tebbaneh district and the neighbouring, largely Alawite, Jabal Mohsen.
Recurring clashes between the two sides have now killed a total of 23 people and wounded more than 100 since June in Lebanon’s northern capital.
Since their latest deployment soldiers have been detonating unexploded grenades and hunting for a gunman who fired at the army as reinforcements moved in on Saturday, the security official said.
A source within the Future Movement of Sunni leader Saad Hariri said that almost 2,200 families have fled their homes in Bab al-Tebbaneh and other impoverished frontline zones.
Half of them have been rehoused in Tripoli schools and the others with family members, he told AFP.
Lebanon has been hit by sporadic outbreaks of violence despite a power-sharing deal between rival political factions in May that led to the election of Michel Sleiman as president and the creation of a unity cabinet.
The latest unrest came after the new cabinet hit snags in negotiations aimed at drawing up a policy agenda ahead of a parliamentary vote of confidence which would enable the government to be officially installed.
In violence on Friday, a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into an apartment building near a vegetable market, setting it ablaze, while another one hit a mosque in Bab al-Tebbaneh.
Bab al-Tebbaneh is a stronghold of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority while the inhabitants of Jabal Mohsen mainly support the Syrian-backed opposition led by Hezbollah.
Tensions between the two communities date back to Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war. Alawites are an offshoot of Shiite Islam.