HEAVY fighting broke out yesterday between government supporters and opponents in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, where the two sides battled with rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns and mortars, security officials and residents said.
Residents said they heard strong explosions reverberating through Tripoli. At least six people were wounded.
The fighting had stopped on Sunday morning after Lebanese troops deployed between the two sides, then flared again yesterday after soldiers pulled back when the situation calmed.
The fresh clashes erupted when pro-government forces thought opponents gathering for a funeral in a nearby neighbourhood were preparing a new attack, security officials said.
Near Beirut, paramedics said at least 16 people were killed in fighting in the mountains overlooking the capital. More than 20 people were wounded.
The fighting in the town of Chouweifat calmed late on Sunday after Druse leader Walid Jumblatt called on his opponents, who are allied with Hezbollah, to mediate a ceasefire and hand over the region to Lebanese troops.
Iran’s state-run Press TV reported that 17 opposition fighters were killed in the mountain clashes. It did not elaborate, and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia refused to comment.
Officials could not immediately provide casualty figures from other mountain towns where fighting also raged a day earlier. But the latest deaths pushed to 54 the number of people killed since violence erupted last Wednesday, in the worst clashes since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
The unrest began last week when Lebanon’s government decided to sack the chief of airport security for alleged ties to Hezbollah, and also declared the militant group’s private telephone network illegal.
Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said the decisions amounted to a declaration of war.
Arab foreign ministers met in Egypt over the weekend and pledged to send a delegation to Beirut to help find a solution. That delegation is expected in Beirut today.
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