Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lebanon: "Intense street battles" between pro- and anti-Syrian factions raging in Beirut

Garbage bins set on fire by Lebanese Sunni Muslim residents are seen blocking a road in Beirut, to protest the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Wahid, a Sunni Muslim cleric, and Muhammed Hussein Miraib, both members of the Lebanon-based March 14 political alliance May 20, 2012. Lebanese soldiers shot dead two members of an alliance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in northern Lebanon on Sunday, security sources said, in the latest incident to raise fears Syria's turmoil was spilling over the border into its neighbour. (Reuters Pictures)
BEIRUT (AP) — Gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns early Monday in intense street battles in the Lebanese capital, wounding six people as fears mounted that the conflict in neighboring Syria was bleeding across the border.

The fighting appeared to be among the worst clashes in Beirut since 2008. The clashes erupted hours after an anti-Syrian cleric and his bodyguard were shot dead in northern Lebanon.

Lebanon and Syria share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries, which are easily enflamed. Last week, clashes sparked by the Syrian crisis killed at least eight people and wounded dozens in the northern city of Tripoli.

The revolt in Syria began 15 months ago, and there are fears the unrest will lead to a regional conflagration that could draw in neighboring countries. The U.N. estimates the conflict has killed more than 9,000 people since March 2011.

Sunday's fighting in Beirut pitted pro- and anti-Syrian Sunni groups, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene in the Mazraa district. Gunmen were roaming the streets and several roads were blocked.

Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said gunmen were using "bombs and machine guns" and that six people were wounded.

The apparent trigger for the fighting was the shooting death of Sunni cleric Sheik Ahmed Abdul-Wahid and his bodyguard in northern Lebanon. The circumstances surrounding their deaths remain unclear but the NNA said they appeared to have been killed by soldiers after their convoy failed to stop at an army checkpoint.