Army warns nation is 'on the edge' as gun battles rage

 

Beirut

Lebanese security forces warned that the fate of the nation is "on the edge" today as it raided militia hideouts and clashed with gunmen, after the assassination of a spy chief set off a cycle of violence underpinned by simmering sectarian tensions.

The army said it would take "decisive measures" to maintain the country's stability as gun battles in the streets of Beirut and militia checkpoints brought back memories of Lebanon's bloody 15-year civil war. The death toll during the past two days climbed to seven as soldiers shot dead a gunman in the capital.

The killing of Wissam al-Hassan, a Sunni known for his investigations into Syria and Hezbollah, in a car bomb on Friday has highlighted disenfranchisement of the country's Sunni community, a situation made more volatile by the absence of any strong figurehead who can dispel tensions.

The Internal Security Forces, where Hassan led the intelligence branch, was seen as one of the few institutions of state that remained out of the influence of Hezbollah and Damascus – making his assassination all the more incendiary.

"The last few hours have proven without a doubt that the country is going through a decisive and critical time and the level of tension in some regions is rising to unprecedented levels," the military said in a statement. It went on to urge politicians not to make inflammatory statements, saying "the fate of the nation is on the edge".

The army's warning came hours after it clashed with Sunni gunmen in the neighbourhoods surrounding Tariq al-Jadideh, which had been embroiled in fighting overnight.

A soldier on the nearby thoroughfare of Corniche al Mazraa, which was deserted as more than 10 armoured personnel carriers lined the street, said that around 50 fighters from the nearby Palestinian camp of Sabra had joined clashes against the army. The Palestinian factions yesterday denied any involvement.

"We are worried it's going to get bad," said a member of staff at the Makassed hospital on the outskirts of Tariq al-Jadideh, where two more casualties were brought in this morning, adding to the six wounded the last night. A Palestinian, who the army said had fired on a patrol, had been shot in the neck and died.

The staff were nervous, with one doctor saying a local militia leader had ordered them not to speak to journalists. The war in Lebanon is often framed as a spillover of the Syrian conflict but it is exacerbating old divides. Overnight, on the street outside the hospital, Sunni gunmen set up a checkpoint and stopped passers-by. Hospital staff said the men were on the lookout for Shias.

For the most part the clashes up and down the country have been contained in old troubles pots, particularly the northern city of Tripoli, where six of the seven casualties died, including a nine-year-old girl shot by a sniper. Sunni fighters there talk of poverty, unemployment and a sense of disenfranchisement among their community, with the government and state institutions dominated by Shia Hezbollah.

At Hassan's funeral yesterday, young, angry Sunnis in the crowd said they were there to start a "sectarian war" and condemned Hezbollah and Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is seen as being too close to Damascus. Shortly afterwards a mob broke through a military cordon near the Prime Minister's office, causing disarray in Beirut's downtown commercial district. Sunni protesters remained camped outside the office yesterday. "Our blood is boiling," said Elie, a 22-year-old medical student. "Hezbollah is a terrorist party and they want to have Syria controlling Lebanon again."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people

Harry Potter actor suffered 'severe flu-like symptoms' on a flight from London to Orlando

Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
News
news

Rap music mogul accused of running two men over in his truck

News
Gywneth Paltrow proposed that women seek out a special herbal steam-treatment service
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
tv

First full-length look is finally here

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Peppa Pig wearing her golden boots
film

"Oink! Oink! Hee hee hee!" First interview with the big-screen star

Life and Style
tech

Biohacking group hopes technology will lead people to think about even more dystopian uses

Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Film director Martin Scorsese
film
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Sport
bottom
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Regional Gas Installation Manager - South East England

£36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Gas Installation Manager is r...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service and Breakdown Engineer - South East

£29000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Service and Brea...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Recruitment Genius: Engineering Manager - Alconbury

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for an Engineering M...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee