BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) – Sectarian clashes broke out Friday in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, killing five people, including a policeman, and wounding at least 15, police officials said.
The clashes between Sunni Muslim gunmen and Alawites, an offshoot Shiite sect, broke out at dawn after a hand grenade was thrown toward a Sunni area, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Tension has been high along Lebanon’s religious and political fault lines since the militant Shiite group Hezbollah overran parts of Beirut in May in response to government attempts to limit its power.
The deal that ended that crisis saw Hezbollah and other opposition politicians re-enter the government of the Western-backed prime minister, Fuad Saniora, with veto power over its decisions.
Friday’s clashes occurred as the government was struggling to draft a document outlining plans for its term in office amid disagreements with Hezbollah.
The fighting escalated as automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades were used between the Sunni Bab el-Tabaneh district and the predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighborhood, the police officials said. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to the media.
A cease-fire went into effect at 1 p.m. after mediation by the grand mufti of north Lebanon, Sheik Malek al-Shaar, who has acted as a mediator throughout the recent weeks of fighting. But after a brief lull fighting broke out again, said residents of the city, located 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Beirut. The police officials said three more people died in the afternoon fighting, including a policeman and two women, bring the total to five people killed.
On the political front, the new Cabinet’s efforts to forge a path forward have been complicated by disagreements with Hezbollah over its weapons.
Some groups say the job of defending Lebanon should fall to the national armed forces. Hezbollah and its allies counter that the militant group’s weapons are needed to defend the country against Israel.