Two dead after overnight street battles but Beirut calm
Published Monday, May 21, 2012
Street battles between pro and anti Syrian groups in Beirut overnight left two people dead, a security official said on Monday, however the Lebanese capital was largely quiet on Monday morning.
"During the night, groups of young men cut off the road in the Tariq al-Jdideh district and street battles followed," the official said, requesting anonymity.
"Two people were killed and 18 were wounded," he said, adding that machineguns had been fired.
Supporters of the anti-Syrian Future Movement clashed with members of the pro-Assad Arab Movement, with fighting continuing until 3.00am.
There was also extensive material damage to the area, including the burning of the Arab Movement headquarters.
Al-Akhbar correspondent Patrick Galey, who was on the scene of the fighting last night, said the local headquarters of the Future Movement may have been used a weapons base for some of the fighters.
"There was a transit route between the municipal stadium – they were getting their arms from there and taking it to a flash point around the back of the university, near a stationary shop," he said.
"They went up to the corner to the Mustaqbal (Future) Movement office and loaded up cartridges before running ran down the street taking fire."
"I couldn't get close enough to be 100% sure they were using it (the Future Movement office) as a weapons base but lots of people were coming from that area with new weapons."
He added that the fighting appeared to be between different Sunni groups, rather than Sunnis and Shias.
"I spoke to the Mustaqbal guys and they said they were fighting Sunnis," he said.
Around 3.00am the Lebanese army deployed and separated the two sides and there appeared to be calm in the area on Monday morning.
Al-Akhbar correspondent Ghassan Saoud in Beirut said the situation in the city was calm.
"Everything is quiet, the streets are under control right now," he said.
Elsewhere in the country there were reports of roads closed by protesters burning tires.
The road to the city of Zahle in eastern Lebanon was closed down on Monday morning, without the presence of any security forces, the National News Agency (NNA) said, while there were conflicting reports about routes in the north of the country.
Roads in Beirut were also closed by protests on Sunday night, but they were all reported to be open on Monday.
However tension remained in the capital where residents fear a repeat of sectarian clashes similar to those that brought the country close to civil war in 2008.
The latest fighting erupted hours after reports emerged that army troops had shot dead Sheikh Ahmad Abdel-Wahad, a prominent anti-Syria Sunni cleric, when his convoy failed to stop at a checkpoint in north Lebanon on Sunday. Another cleric in the car was also killed.
Wahad's funeral was to be held later Monday in the northern region of Akkar.
His death followed a week of intermittent clashes between Sunnis hostile to the Syrian regime and Alawis who support Assad, with at least 10 people being killed in the northern port city of Tripoli.
The violence highlighted a deep split between Lebanon's political parties where the opposition backs those leading the uprising against Assad while a ruling coalition led by the powerful Hezbollah supports the regime.
Reflecting mounting fears of an escalation, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar urged their citizens at the weekend to avoid travel to Lebanon.
The US embassy in Lebanon also advised its citizens of the potential for continued demonstrations, road blockages and violence during the three days of mourning called for Wahad's death.