Fragile ceasefire after Tripoli is engulfed in worst fighting since the 15-year civil war


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The Independent Online

The crackle of gunfire and the heavy thud of rocket-propelled grenades hung over Lebanon's second city of Tripoli yesterday as the death toll climbed during a third day of running street battles that have ominous echoes of the conflict in neighbouring Syria.

A shaky ceasefire took hold last night but Sunni fighters warned that "just one bullet" from the other side would renew the clashes, which claimed two further lives yesterday, taking the total killed to 12. Around 80 have been injured.

Lebanon has not been immune to overspill from the 17-month civil war that is raging across the border, but it is the northern city of Tripoli where the fault lines are most acute.

The rivalry between the Alawite neighbourhood of Jabal Mohsen, which stands firmly behind the Assad regime, and the pro-revolution Sunnis down the hill in Bab al-Tabbaneh, has been enflamed by the conflict over the border. But the fighting is underpinned by poverty and deep-seated mutual resentment.

Around ten rocket-propelled grenades fell in just a few hours yesterday in the vicinity of the aptly named Syria Street, the front line between the two communities, according to the fighters who exchanged fire back and forth up the hill. After the ceasefire came into effect at 5.30pm yesterday, a large army deployment trundled into the area. Troops had withdrawn a day earlier after coming under attack from grenades, sending the conflict into an even more deadly tangent.

Those killed over the past three days include a 13-year-old and a soldier. The city's small Islamic Charitable Hospital said it has so far treated 36 people injured in the fighting. Nine are in-patients, two of whom are in a critical condition. "We are expecting more," said Azzam Assoum, the hospital's general director.

Tripoli has been rocked by clashes over the past year and a half, but those that have engulfed the city over the past three days have been the most intense, with some residents describing them as the worst since Lebanon's 15-year civil war.

"We are trapped in this cycle of fighting with no where to go," said a taxi driver from the Bab al-Tabbaneh. "What is the point? We are just being used in someone else's game."