World Bulletin / News Desk
Three people were killed when fighting erupted overnight in the Lebanese city of Tripoli between members of the Alawite minority loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and members of the Sunni majority, witnesses and security officials said on Sunday.
Rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles were used in the fighting in an Alawite enclave and surrounding Sunni neighbourhoods in the port city, 70 km (44 miles) north of Beirut.
"The clashes peaked at dawn. The sound of gunfire is still echoing in the city," a Lebanese security official said.
The official Lebanese state news agency said a soldier hit by sniper fire was among those killed.
A statement from the army said reinforcements were being sent to the city and that troops were "pursuing armed men to return the situation to normality."
A Reuters correspondent in the city said most of Tripoli's main intersections were blocked by burnt tires and that the Lebanese army had deployed in an area separating the Alawite enclave from the rest of the city.
The fighting underlines how sectarian tensions in Syria can spill over into neighbouring Lebanon.
A small Alawite minority is concentrated in Tripoli, a conservative Sunni city where many residents have been enraged by the Syrian government's crackdown on the 14-month revolt against 42 years of rule by the Assad family and their Alawite establishment.
Syria's Sunni majority is at the forefront of the uprising against Assad, whose sect is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
Lebanon's government is headed by Najib Mikati, a former businessman and a personal friend of Assad's.
Mikati is from Tripoli, where anger against Assad has been growing. The Syrian government has accused Islamist groups in Lebanon of backing insurgents fighting loyalist Syrian forces and of involvement in car bomb attacks on security targets.
For the past several days, followers of a Sunni Islamist group in Tripoli have been staging a sit-in protest against the arrest of a man whom the authorities said had been in contact with an unnamed "terrorist organisation."
The Islamists say the detainee, Shadi al-Moulawi, was arrested because he was helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon who had fled the crackdown across the border.
A statement by al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, a big Islamist group in Tripoli, criticised the arrest of Moulawi as lacking due process, but the police said Moulawi was arrested after thorough surveillance.
Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon under international pressure in 2005 after a 29-year presence, but Assad retains significant influence in the small but geopolitically important country.Güncelleme Tarihi: 13 Mayıs 2012, 16:39