Sunday, June 24, 2018

Syrian unrest spills into Lebanon for third day

TRIPOLI, Lebanon — Firing assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, Lebanese gunmen clashed in street battles Monday as sectarian tensions linked to the 14-month-old uprising in Syria bled across the border for a third day.

At least five people have been killed and 100 wounded in Lebanon's second-largest city since the gunbattles erupted late Saturday, security officials said.

Residents say differences over Syria are at the root of the fighting, which pits neighbor against neighbor and raises fears of broader unrest that could draw in neighboring countries.

Lebanon and Syria share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries that are easily inflamed. Tripoli has seen bouts of sectarian violence in the past, but the fighting has become more frequent as the conflict in Syria worsens.

The battle lines break down along sectarian and political lines. On one side are Sunni Muslims who support the rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. On the other are members of the tiny Alawite sect, followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam who are Assad's most loyal supporters.

The recent clashes were sparked by the arrest of Lebanese national Shadi Mawlawi, an outspoken critic of Assad. The Sunni fighters say the root of the latest conflict in Tripoli is across the border.

Also on Monday, Syrian troops shelled the rebel-held town of Rastan, sparking intense clashes that sent bloodied victims flooding into hospitals and clinics, activists said.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said 23 soldiers were reportedly killed in the clashes. He cited rebel fighters, but did not identify them, and the account could not be independently confirmed.

World powers have backed a peace plan for Syria that was put forward by United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, but the bloodshed has not stopped. More than 100 U.N. observers have been deployed in Syria to oversee the truce between the government and armed rebels.

The United Nations estimates the conflict has killed more than 9,000 people.

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