Two killed in overnight clashes in Beirut

 

Two people were killed and 15 others injured in street battles between pro- and anti-Syrian groups in the Lebanese capital overnight as the spiralling conflict in neighbouring Syria spilled across the border.

Some residents in Beirut kept their children off school following the fighting, which was among the worst the Lebanese capital has seen in four years.

Gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns in battles that lasted more than four hours.

The streets were calmer today, but some shops remained closed.

The violence in the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Tariq Jadidah erupted hours after an anti-Syrian cleric and his bodyguard were shot dead at a checkpoint in northern Lebanon, an incident that instantly increased tensions.

Authorities were braced for the possibility of more violence today in the north, where Sunni cleric Sheik Ahmed Abdul-Wahid and his bodyguard were to be buried.

Gunmen carrying automatic rifles shouted for the downfall of the Syrian regime in the cleric's home town of Beireh, where his funeral was to take place later today.

The fighting underlines how the bloodshed in Syria, where President Bashar Assad's regime is cracking down on an uprising against his rule, can fuel violence across the border in Lebanon.

Lebanon has a fragile political faultline precisely over the issue of Syria.

There is an array of die-hard pro-Syrian Lebanese parties and politicians, as well as support for the regime on the street level. There is an equally deep hatred of Mr Assad among other Lebanese who fear Damascus is still calling the shots in their country. The two sides are the legacy of Syria's virtual rule over Lebanon from 1976 to 2005 and its continued influence since.

Today, a gunman in Beireh shouted "Down with Bashar!" and said the Syrian leader was trying to "transfer the crisis to Lebanon".

Lebanon and Syria share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries, which can easily turn violent. Last week, clashes sparked by the Syrian crisis killed at least eight people and wounded dozens in the northern city of Tripoli.

The revolt in Syria began 15 months ago, and there are fears the unrest will lead to a regional conflagration that could draw in neighbouring countries. The UN estimates the conflict has killed more than 9,000 people since March 2011.

Syrian activists said regime forces killed dozens of people during a raid on the central town of Soran in Hama province yesterday, security officials said.

One activist group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, put the death toll at 39, citing a network of sources on the ground. Syria-based activist Mustafa Osso said the figure was more than 20.

The death toll could not be independently confirmed.

A video posted online by activists showed the bodies of five people said to be of the same family who were killed during the shelling of Soran.

Syria is a geographical linchpin in the Middle East, raising the possibility that the crisis there will bleed into other countries.

The circumstances surrounding yesterday's fatal shooting of the Abdul-Wahid, the Sunni cleric, and his bodyguard remained unclear but the state-run National News Agency said they appeared to have been killed by soldiers after their convoy failed to stop at an army checkpoint.

The Lebanese army issued a statement, saying it deeply regretted the incident and that a committee will investigate.

The clashes in Beirut subsided at around 4am local time after anti-Syrian gunmen took control of the headquarters of the pro-Syrian Arab Movement Party.

The fighting was among the most intense fighting in Beirut since May 2008, when gunmen from the Shiite Hezbollah militant group swept through Sunni neighbourhoods after the pro-Western government tried to dismantle the group's telecommunications network.

More than 80 people were killed in the 2008 violence, pushing the country to the brink of civil war.

Also today, Syria's state-run news agency Sana said Mr Assad had issued a presidential decree calling on the country's newly elected parliament to hold its first meeting on Thursday. A parliament speaker is usually elected on the first meeting of a new parliament.

Mr Assad has pointed to the parliamentary elections earlier this month as a sign of his long-promised reforms, but the opposition dismissed the vote as a sham meant to preserve his autocratic rule.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
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

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable