Guns fall silent in Lebanon's Tripoli
(MENAFN - The Peninsula) The Lebanese army took the last position held by Islamist militants in the northern city of Tripoli yesterday, ending two days of battles that marked some of the worst fighting to spill over into Lebanon from the Syrian civil war next door.
Guns fell silent as the army issued a statement saying fighters who had fled should turn themselves in or be hunted down. A security official said the city had been secured and 162 militants arrested.
At least 11 soldiers, eight civilians and 22 militants have died in the fighting in the predominantly Sunni Muslim city where hostilities linked to Syria's civil war have erupted repeatedly in the last three years. "The operation is over and the army is entering areas where the gunmen were entrenched in order to clear them," Samir Jisr, a Sunni politician from Tripoli, said.
The fighting marks the worst spillover of Syria-related violence into Lebanon since early August, when Islamist insurgents affiliated to the Nusra Front and Islamic State staged an incursion into the border town of Arsal and took around 20 soldiers captive.
Three have been executed and the Nusra Front has threatened to kill a fourth in response to the army operation in Tripoli.
The latest fighting erupted after an army raid on a militant hideout last Thursday. The detained leader of the cell has told investigators its plan was to set up a safe haven for Islamist militants in villages near Tripoli, security sources said.
Lebanese officials fear Islamist insurgents from the Syrian civil war are trying to expand their influence into Sunni areas of northern Lebanon. With the onset of winter, they see a rising threat from insurgents based in the mountainous border area who may try to open up new supply routes between Syria and Lebanon.
The Syrian war has triggered Lebanon's worst instability since its own 1975-90 civil war. There have been several bouts of fighting in Tripoli since the Syria war erupted in 2011.
Political conflict has left Lebanon without a president since February when Michel Suleiman's term expired. The area taken by the army yesterday included a mosque being used as a base by the gunmen in the Bab Al Tabbaneh district. Hundreds of families left the neighbourhood under a humanitarian ceasefire requested by local Sunni leaders.
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