Archive for October 22nd, 2012

Lebanon launches major security operation

October 22, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese troops launched a major security operation on Monday to open all roads and force gunmen off the streets, trying to contain an outburst of violence set off by the assassination of a top intelligence official who was a powerful opponent of Syria. Sectarian clashes killed at least five people.

Opponents of Syria have blamed the regime in Damascus for the killing of Lebanese Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan in a Beirut car bomb on Friday. With Lebanon already tense and deeply divided over the civil war next door, the assassination has threatened to drag the country back into the kind of sectarian strife that plagued it for decades — much of it linked to Syria.

“The nation is passing through a crucial and critical period and tension has risen in some areas to unprecedented levels,” the army said in a statement. It urged politicians to be careful not to incite violence “because the fate of the nation is on the edge.”

“Security is a red line,” the statement said, adding that strict measures are being taken to “prevent Lebanon from being an arena for settling regional problems.” Cracks of gunfire rang out in Beirut as soldiers and armored personnel carriers with heavy machine guns took up position on major thoroughfares and dismantled roadblocks. The state news agency reported sporadic gunfire in parts of Beirut and around the northern city of Tripoli.

Tripoli saw clashes between two neighborhoods that support opposite sides in Syria’s conflict and have a decades-long history of shooting at each other. Four people were killed in the fighting between the Sunni neighborhood of Bab Tabbaneh and the adjacent Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, which supports the Syrian regime.

Lebanon and Syria share similar sectarian divides that have fed tensions in both countries. Most of Lebanon’s Sunnis have backed Syria’s mainly Sunni rebels, while Lebanese Shiites tend to back President Bashar Assad who belongs to the minority Alawite sect — an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Tripoli residents said scores of soldiers deployed around the city in an attempt to bring back calm. The military also set up checkpoints, searched cars and asked people for identity cards. Security officials also said one man was killed in the Wadi Zayneh area north of the southern city of Sidon. They said the clashes also wounded at least six people in Beirut and 11 in Tripoli. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Al-Hassan, the assassinated intelligence official, was a Sunni who challenged Syria and its powerful Lebanese ally, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Al-Hassan’s killing has imperiled Lebanon’s fragile political balance. Many politicians blamed Syria for the killing and angry protesters tried to storm the government palace after al-Hassan’s funeral on Sunday, venting their rage at leaders they consider puppets of a murderous Syrian regime. But they were pushed back by troops who fired their guns in the air and filled the street with tear gas.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a Sunni, told As-Safir newspaper that when he took up his post last year, he intended to protect all Lebanese, particularly Sunnis. “I was convinced that through this mission, I am protecting my country, my people and especially fellow members of my sect,” he said.

The prime minister of Lebanon is usually a Sunni according to a sectarian division of top posts in the state. Over the past year, pro-Syrian Hezbollah and its allies have come to dominate the government.

On Sunday night, a group of anti-Syrian protesters started an open-ended sit-in outside Mikati’s house in his hometown of Tripoli. The protesters said they will only end the sit-in when Mikati resigns.

Ambassadors of Britain, the U.S., Russia, China and France and the U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon met President Michel Suleiman to express support for him. “The permanent members at the United Nations call upon all the parties in Lebanon to preserve stability,” Derek Plumbly, the U.N. representative, told reporters in Arabic while surrounded by the five ambassadors. “We strongly condemn any attempt to shake Lebanon’s stability.”

Later in the day, Mikati met with Suleiman but did not make any statements afterward. An Associated Press photographer saw dozens of gunmen roaming the streets on Monday in Beirut’s predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Tariq Jadideh, where fighting has taken place. Local Sunni leaders were calling the gunmen by telephone urging them to pull out of the streets.

In some roads around Tariq Jadideh, masked Sunni gunmen set up checkpoints, stopping cars and asking people about their destination and where they were coming from. A woman who lives in the neighborhood said the fighting began shortly after midnight and lasted until sunrise.

“We couldn’t sleep because of the shooting. There were also some booms,” she said, referring to rocket-propelled grenades. She asked that her name not be used for fear of reprisals.

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Assad forces raid town; leader of Syrian Free Army denies being arrested

Tuesday, 04 October 2011

Leader of the so-called Syrian Free Army, Col. Riyadh al-Asaad, denied to Al Arabiya the media reports about his arrest by Syrian government forces.

Syrian forces hunted protesters in the central region of Homs as they sought to crush armed resistance that is emerging after six months of protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, Reuters reported.

Monday’s crackdown came a day after Syrian opposition groups met in Istanbul and urged international action to stop what they called indiscriminate killings of civilians by the authorities.

The United States welcomed the development, saying it was encouraged by the opposition’s statements supporting non-violence, and blamed the mounting death toll on the Syrian authorities.

Local activists said a military operation on Monday focused on Talbiseh near Homs, 150 km (94 miles) north of Damascus, after security forces entered the nearby town of Rastan, which lies on the highway between the capital and the northern city of Aleppo.

Meanwhile, the defected Khalid Ibn al-Walid battalion said that it has withdrawn from Rastan for the sake of protecting civilian lives.

Battling protesters and army deserters

For about a week, tank- and helicopter-backed troops have battled protesters and army deserters in Rastan, in the most sustained fighting since Syria’s uprising began in March. The official Syrian news agency said on Saturday government forces had regained control of the town.

“Tank fire targeted Talbiseh this morning and communications remain cut. The town was key in supplying Rastan and now it is being punished for that,” one activist said. “House to house arrests are continuing in the area for the second day.”

Armed protesters, mostly in the central Homs region and the northwestern province of Idlib, have been so far outgunned.

Activists said dozens of villagers had been arrested in Talbiseh in the past 48 hours and there were deaths and casualties from the raids.

Information also was scarce from Rastan, which has been sealed off since tanks moved in at the weekend. Activists said hundreds of people were believed to have been arrested and held in schools and factories in the town.

Activists told The Associated Press that Syrian troops, going house to house, have detained more than 3,000 people in the past three days in Rastan, which saw some of the worst fighting of the 6-month-old uprising recently.

The activist group Local Coordination Committees said fighting in the town has now stopped after the military operation that left dozens dead. The group and a Rastan-based activist confirmed about 3,000 in the town of 70,000 had been detained. The activist told AP by telephone that the detainees are being held at a cement factory, as well as some schools and the Sports Club, a massive, four-story compound.

“Ten of my relatives have been detained,” said the activist, who asked that he be identified only by his first name Hassan for fear of retaliation. He said he was speaking from hiding in Rastan.

Events on the ground are difficult to verify as the authorities have expelled independent journalists from the country or banned them from working, although some foreign reporters have been allowed to visit.

While some Assad opponents have taken up arms, others are still staging demonstrations against his 11-year rule. Night protests erupted on Sunday in several districts of Homs, where a crowd in the Khalidiya district shouted, “Homs is free.”

Assad, 46, who succeeded his father in 2000, blames the violence on foreign-backed armed gangs. His officials say 700 police and soldiers have died, as well as 700 “mutineers.”

Surge in sectarian killings

A surge in sectarian killings has heightened tensions in the city. The state news agency said “armed terrorist groups” killed five people there on Monday. Residents said two bodies had turned up in the city’s Sunni Qarabid neighborhood.

Homs has a mixed population, with a few Alawite neighborhoods inhabited by members of Assad’s minority sect, alongside others populated by majority Sunni Muslims.

Underlining the turn towards violence, the authorities said Sariya Hassoun, the son of Mufti Ahmad Hassoun, Syria’s state-appointed top cleric, was assassinated in Idlib on Sunday.

It was the first attack on the state-backed Sunni clergy who have backed Assad for decades, despite widespread Sunni resentment at Alawite dominance.

As Syria’s struggle has grown bloodier, claiming at least 2,700 lives so far, according to a U.N. count, demonstrators have begun to demand some form of international protection that stops short of Libya-style Western military intervention.

A statement issued in Istanbul on Sunday by a newly formed opposition National Council rejected intervention that “compromises Syria’s sovereignty,” but said the outside world had a humanitarian obligation to protect the Syrian people.

“The Council demands that international governments and organizations meet their responsibility to support the Syrian people, protect them and stop the crimes and gross human rights violations being committed by the current illegitimate regime.”

The council said the uprising must remain peaceful but that military assaults, torture and mass arrests were driving Syria “to the edge of civil war and inviting foreign interference.”

It also said the Muslim Brotherhood, the Damascus Declaration — which groups established opposition figures — and grassroots activists had all joined the Council.

Source: al-Arabiya.

Link: http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/10/04/170084.html.

Officials: 6 hurt in overnight clashes in Beirut

October 22, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese security officials say overnight clashes in Beirut between Sunni and Shiite gunmen have wounded at least six people.

The officials say troops managed to separate the gunmen and calm returned Monday morning to the two neighborhoods in the capital where fighting had erupted. The officials also reported heavy overnight clashes in the northern city of Tripoli. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.

Lebanon has been boiling since Friday after an anti-Syrian top intelligence official was assassinated in a Beirut car bombing. The assassination has threatened to shatter the country’s fragile political balance.

Many politicians have blamed Syria for the killing and angry protesters tried to storm the government palace after Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan funeral on Sunday.

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