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
ebooksNow available in paperback
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: Sales Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Manager required for a busy company in...

Recruitment Genius: Controller / Mobile Inspector

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This leading security company requires a prof...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A sales person is required to join a lea...

Recruitment Genius: Relief Security Officer

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This leading security company requires a...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy