Lebanon army fights militants in Tripoli, 6 soldiers killed

Soldiers exchanged heavy fire with the militants, whose exact affiliation was unclear, and had surrounded them by midday, security sources said

Lebanon army fights militants in Tripoli, 6 soldiers killed

World Bulletin/News Desk

Six Lebanese soldiers were killed as the army clashed with gunmen in northern Lebanon for a second day on Saturday, using helicopters to fire rockets in the first such air attack since the war in neighbouring Syria began.

Soldiers exchanged heavy fire with the gunmen - whose exact affiliation was unclear - in the city of Tripoli in the morning and moved in on their positions in the afternoon, security sources said.

Three soldiers were wounded in a nearby incident when gunmen opened fire on an army vehicle near the northern village of Bahneen, the sources said. One soldier later died from his wounds.

An officer was killed in another attack near the town of al-Minya, also in the north, security sources said. The military used two helicopters to fire two rockets at militants in the area after the attack, security sources said.

A third soldier died from wounds sustained in fighting on Friday. At least four militants and two civilians were also killed, and about 14 soldiers wounded, the sources said.

Gunmen also took one soldier captive in Tripoli as he was riding in a taxi, security sources said.

Tripoli has seen some of the worst spillover from the 3-1/2-year-old war in neighbouring Syria, whose border is only about 30 km (20 miles) north up the coast from the ancient port city. Gun battles and bombings linked to the conflict have regularly broken out.

In statements published by the National News Agency, the army leadership said: "The pursuit of terrorist gunmen in Tripoli is continuing and will not be pulled back until after the terrorists are eliminated."

Syrian conflict to cap Lebanon's growth

Meanwhile, Lebanon's economy will grow by no more than 2 or 2.5 percent next year if it does not resolve its political problems as it struggles to cope with the fallout from the war in neighouring Syria, the economy minister said.

Lebanon's economy has been hit hard by Syria's civil war, which has sparked gun battles, bombings and kidnappings in the small Mediterranean country and hurt key sectors like tourism. It has also forced more than 1 million Syrians to take refuge inside its borders.

Economy and Trade Minister Alain Hakim said the country needed $2.5 billion to start addressing the economic impact of the Syrian refugees, whose presence has strained infrastructure and led to increased competition for jobs.

Political tensions have also risen. Lebanon has been without a president since May because lawmakers have been unable to agree on a new one. Parliament is also expected to postpone next month's elections to 2017 because of instability linked to the Syrian crisis.

"Today, in the absence of a president and the absence of parliamentary elections and the absence of political continuity, we cannot predict more than 2 or 2.5 percent (economic growth) in 2015 if we continue like this," Hakim told the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit.

"And this is if the Lebanese economy is resilient in confronting the political and security earthquakes that are happening around us."

The government had not previously estimated growth next year. Government officials and the International Monetary Fund have forecast 2 percent growth this year, after last year's 1.5 percent expansion.

With a population of only about 4 million, Lebanon now hosts more refugees per capita than any other country in the world. Many Lebanese blame refugees for increases in crime and for taking jobs and overburdening schools, hospitals and other public services.

Lebanon's finance minister said this week that the country had had little response after presenting the United Nations with a paper at the end of 2013 estimating that refugees would cost the economy $7.6 billion.

Hakim said crime and competition for jobs had risen as a result of the refugee presence.

"If we continue in this fashion, I think the Lebanese economy will also start to collapse, little by little. Even if it is resilient, with time, especially in terms of commerce, the crisis will grow much worse than it is today," he said.

"Today the Lebanese state needs $2.5 billion to start finding solutions to the Syrian presence in Lebanon ... to treat the effects of the Syrian refugees on Lebanon," he said.

Hakim, however, said remittances from Lebanese migrants into the country had increased over 2013, helping the economy withstand some of the impact. Inflation was at about 2.5 percent, he added.

He said Lebanon would also try to forge new markets for Lebanese exports and businesses in countries where there were large presences of Lebanese migrants, such as in Latin America, Africa and parts of Europe.


Last Mod: 25 Ekim 2014, 23:47
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