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Syrian clashes spill into Lebanon as seven die in gun battle

A number of clashes between pro- and anti-Syrian groups in the north of the country have broken out in recent weeks with fears the conflict could escalate sectarian tensions in volatile Lebanon.

A Sunni gunman takes aim during clashes that erupted on Syria Street, which divides the areas between Sunnis and Alawites, in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon earlier today.
A Sunni gunman takes aim during clashes that erupted on Syria Street, which divides the areas between Sunnis and Alawites, in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon earlier today.
Image: AP Photo

GUN BATTLES BETWEEN pro and anti-Syrian groups in northern Lebanon illed at least seven people and wounded 22 on Saturday, security officials said.

Activists reported fresh shelling in a region in central Syria where a massacre last week left more than 100 people dead.

The clashes were the latest to hit the Lebanese port of Tripoli. Repeated outbreaks of violence in the city, the country’s second largest, are seen as spillover from the conflict in neighboring Syria and have raised fears of an escalation in sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

The fighting in Tripoli started shortly before midnight on Friday and intensified today, the officials said on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Lebanon and Syria share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries, which are easily enflamed. Clashes in Tripoli last month killed at least eight people.

The conflict pits Sunni Muslims who support Syrian rebels trying to oust President Bashar Assad against members of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam of which Assad is a member.

Smoke was seen billowing from several apartments near the city’s Syria street, the dividing line between the mainly Sunni Bab Tabbaneh neighborhood and the adjacent, Alawite-majority Jabal Mohsen.

The area around Syria street was mostly empty and gunmen were roaming the streets.

“We are being targeted because we support the Syrian people,” a Sunni gunman told Associated Press Television. “We are with you (Syrian people) and will not abandon you.”

In Syria, activists said government troops fired shells at Houla, a cluster of farming villages in the central province of Homs where the UN says at least 108 people — including 49 children under the age of ten — were killed on May 25.

The opposition and the government have exchanged accusations over the massacre, each blaming the other.

Syria has come under deep international isolation since its forces launched a ferocious crackdown on dissent nearly 15 months ago, but the Houla massacre has brought a new urgency to calls to end the crisis.

Activists say as many as 13,000 people have died in Assad’s crackdown against the anti-government uprising, which began in March 2011 amid the Arab Spring.

One year after the revolt began, the UN put the toll at 9,000, but many hundreds more have died since.

Read: Syria: 11-year-old played dead to survive Houla massacre

Read: UN human rights chief warns of full civil war in Syria

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Associated Press

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