Fierce clashes overnight shook the northern port city and sporadic fighting continued on Monday morning, with fighters firing machineguns and rocket propelled grenades. Tension between the Alawite and Sunni communities in Tripoli has been fuelled by the unrest in neighboring Syria, where Assad is seeking to crush a 14-month-old uprising
Fierce clashes overnight shook the northern port city and sporadic fighting continued on Monday morning, with fighters firing machineguns and rocket propelled grenades.
Tension between the Alawite and Sunni communities in Tripoli has been fuelled by the unrest in neighboring Syria, where Assad is seeking to crush a 14-month-old uprising which began with largely peaceful protests but has become increasingly militarized.
Assad is from the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while Syria's revolt has been led by Syria's majority Sunni Muslims.
A small Alawite minority is concentrated in Tripoli, a conservative Sunni city where many residents have been enraged by the Syrian government's crackdown on the mainly Sunni revolt
Clashes began late on Saturday, and three people were killed over the weekend in the city's Alawite enclave and surrounding Sunni Muslim neighborhoods.
The fighting in Tripoli, 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Beirut, highlights how sectarian tensions in Syria can ignite conflict in Lebanon. Buildings in the area are still riddled with bullet holes from similar clashes earlier in the year.
Among the deaths at the weekend was a soldier hit by sniper fire. Sporadic fighting also took place between armed Sunnis and the Lebanese army near a main Sunni district, and many of Tripoli's main intersections were blocked by burning tires.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a Sunni Muslim from Tripoli, met religious leaders in the city on Sunday in an attempt to defuse the situation, and local leaders were due to meet later on Monday for more talks to calm the tension.
Tension in Tripoli had been on the rise since last week when Sunni militants held a sit-in to protest the arrest of a man who Lebanese authorities said had been in contact with an unnamed "terrorist organization.”
Extremists say Shadi al-Moulawi was arrested because he was working with Syrian refugees.
A statement by al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, an extremist group in Tripoli, criticized the arrest as lacking due process. Police said he was arrested after thorough surveillance.
An Associated Press reporter in Tripoli said the Lebanese army sent reinforcements to the city, but that intermittent clashes continued Sunday with gunmen shooting at each other with automatic rifles. Heavier weapons, like rocket-propelled grenades, have also been fired.
Lebanon is sharply split along sectarian lines, with 18 religious sects. But it also has a fragile political fault line precisely over the issue of Syria.
An array of pro-Syrian parties support Assad's regime, as do many Lebanese citizens. Others oppose Assad and accuse Damascus of heavy-handed meddling in Lebanese politics.
The two sides are the legacy of, and backlash against, Syria's virtual rule over Lebanon from 1976 to 2005 and its continued influence since.