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



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
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Sir Chris Hoy won six Olympic golds - in which four events?
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

£18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

Implementation Engineer

£150 - £200 per day: Orgtel: Implementation Engineer Hampshire / London (Gre...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Pharmacuetical

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Real Staffing, one of the UK'...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform