Lebanon: Tal Kalakh Ambush Rocks Tripoli
Published Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Four days after 21 Lebanese Islamists were killed as they crossed into Syria to fight alongside the opposition, clashes between Sunnis and Alawis in the northern city of Tripoli continue to spread and intensify.
On the morning of 4 December 2012, fighting broke out in Souk al-Qameh and Syria Street, quickly escalating from stabbings to the use of live rounds and the burning of shops after rumors spread of kidnappings by both sides.
Most of the city’s merchants immediately shut their doors as the army deployed into the hot areas, barricading those streets that connect Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh with Alawi Jabal Mohsen.
The confrontations reached a fever pitch in the early afternoon as attempts to contain the fighting failed. Clashes soon erupted across the line of demarcation between the two communities, spreading to al-Qubba, al-Mankubeen, and al-Hara al-Baranieh.
This in turn led to a large-scale displacement as people fled the violence and Lebanon’s second largest city was completely paralyzed due to sniper fire along one of its main thoroughfares.
News circulated that two of Tripoli’s influential sheikhs, Salem al-Rifai and Hussam al-Sabbagh, were busy trying to contain the clashes, with Islamist sources confirming that “no decision has been made by any group to escalate, and the crisis will end within a few hours.”
Two people were killed as a result of sniper fire – one each from Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen – and 20 people were injured, including two soldiers and a member of the Internal Security Forces (ISF).
By nightfall, LBC television reported an additional death by sniper fire as the clashes continued to intensify, with the army becoming more assertive in trying to maintain control.
The parents of the Islamists who have gone missing or died in Tal Kalakh were reported to be in touch with the International Red Cross and the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asking them to intervene on their behalf with the Syrian authorities to get their sons back.
In response to Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Adnan Mansour’s request for help in returning the bodies of the dead Lebanese fighters, Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul-Karim said, “For humanitarian reasons, we are looking into the case, and we will later announce the necessary steps that must be taken to resolve the matter.”
Foreign ministry sources reported that the Syrian ambassador promised to seriously follow up on the issue, but he did not give any details as to how many were killed and how many were captured alive, and whether the government intended to release the latter.
In the meantime, the families of the 21 who were confirmed dead held funeral ceremonies as their last wills and testaments were circulated on social networking sites.
Their parting statements suggest that they went to Syria to participate in jihad and that most of them identify as Salafis influenced by sheikhs who are close to the militant Islamist group, Fatah al-Islam.
“What can be confirmed,” Islamist sources told Al-Akhbar, “is that they went to Syria secretly, without notifying their families,” pointing out that “most of their parents are religiously conservative or Islamist, but did not agree with their children going to Syria.”
The reason for this, these sources added, is that in the view of many of the parents, “The idea of jihad in Syria is still unclear and hasn’t been fully developed. Some even viewed it as participating in a fight between Muslims and should be rejected.”
“Most of the sheikhs, including the Salafi ones, do not encourage fighters going to Syria to support the opposition at this time. They prefer that they stay in Lebanon in order to prepare for the decisive battle that will take place here, which is unlikely to happen until after the Syrian regime is toppled,” the sources added.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.