Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Lebanon Fighting Linked to Syria War

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Lebanon Fighting Linked to Syria War

Article excerpt

BEIRUT -- Lebanese supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad fired heavy machine guns and lobbed mortar shells at each other Thursday in some of the worst fighting in the port city of Tripoli in years.

The battles raised the five-day death toll to 16 and fed fears that the Syrian civil war is spreading to Lebanon and other neighboring countries. The violence also added urgency to U.S.- Russian efforts to bring both sides of the Syrian conflict to a peace conference in Geneva.

Members of the Syrian opposition began three days of meetings in Istanbul to hash out a unified position on whether to attend the conference, while maintaining that Mr. Assad's departure from power should be the goal of negotiations.

Lebanon has been on edge since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011. The neighboring country, still struggling to recover from its own 15-year civil war, is sharply divided along sectarian lines and into pro- and anti-Assad camps. The overt involvement of the Iranian- backed Hezbollah Shiite militant group alongside the forces of Mr. Assad's regime has sparked outrage among many Sunni Muslims in Lebanon, who identify with the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels fighting to topple Mr. Assad.

Deadly sectarian street fighting has erupted on several occasions, mostly in Tripoli, Lebanon's largest city and a hotbed for Sunni Islamists. Although Tripoli is overwhelmingly Sunni, it has a tiny community of Alawites, members of Mr. Assad's minority sect, which is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

This week's fighting in Tripoli has been linked to a Syrian regime offensive against the rebel-held city of Qusair, in western Syria, that has included Hezbollah fighters supporting Syrian troops against the rebels.

Tripoli residents reported more than six hours of fighting that began late Wednesday and continued through Thursday morning. Mortar shells were used for the first time. Ambulances rushed back and forth, transporting casualties to hospitals, as officials used mosque loudspeakers to urge citizens to take shelter in basements. Schools and many businesses were shuttered Thursday while sporadic fighting continued.

Five people were killed, pushing the overall death toll to 16 since fighting began Sunday, with 200 people wounded, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations. …

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