BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) – Heavy fighting erupted again Wednesday between pro- and anti-government supporters in northern Lebanon, killing at least three people and wounding 32 others and shattering a fragile truce that lasted just two weeks, security officials said.
Five soldiers were among the wounded in clashes in the northern city of Tripoli that began overnight and continued Wednesday morning, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Among those killed was a woman, identified as Leila Shami, who died of a heart attack after a hand grenade landed near her, the state-run National News Agency reported. It said the fierce fighting forced a large number of people to flee their homes to safer areas.
Last month, nine people were killed and 44 others were wounded in two days of fierce sectarian fighting between Sunni Muslim government supporters from Tripoli’s Bab el-Tabaneh district and Alawite followers of the Hezbollah-led opposition in the nearby Jabal Mohsen neighborhood, before the army and police deployed to quell violence.
A bomb also hit an apartment building in Bab el-Tabaneh last month, killing one person and wounding 28 others.
The latest clashes began overnight when three hand grenades exploded in a street separating the two rival districts. It was not immediately known who threw the grenades.
Gunmen from the two sides exchanged machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades for hours, the officials said. Despite an army and police presence in the area, tension has been rising between the two sides. About 20 houses in both neighborhoods were torched last month in apparent acts of revenge.
The violence in the north comes as Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora is having trouble forming a national unity Cabinet in line with an Arab deal that ended an 18-month political stalemate that nearly plunged Lebanon into a new civil war.
Located 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Beirut, Tripoli is Lebanon’s second largest city and is predominantly Sunni Muslim, a majority of which support the government. But it is also home to Alawites, a small offshoot of Shiite Islam that is allied with Syria and the Lebanese opposition, led by the Shiite militant Hezbollah group.
The same area witnessed heavy fighting in May, when pro-government gunmen and militias loyal to the opposition clashed after Hezbollah militants overran streets in Beirut.
Nationwide, the violence in May killed 81 and wounded over 200 people, and was Lebanon’s worst since the 1975-90 conflict.