Lebanese army, militant clashes ongoing in historic Tripoli market
Local journalists report that the militants who first attacked Lebanese soldiers in Tripoli's souk are affiliated with the Islamic State group
Lebanese soldiers during an assault on Islamist militants inside a historic area in Tripoli on Saturday (AFP)
Published date: 13 February 2015 03:00 UTC | Last update: 8 years 1 month ago
Lebanese troops attacked Islamist gunmen holed up in the historic market of the northern city of Tripoli Saturday, as deadly clashes continued overnight and into the morning in the longtime tourist attraction, an AFP correspondent reported.
A gunman was killed, and nine soldiers and at least 11 other civilian bystanders wounded, in the fighting that erupted in the city's souks late on Friday, according to a security official who talked to AFP and reports in Lebanon's Daily Star.
Fighting reportedly erupted on Friday evening after militants, whom sources in the town told the Daily Star are affiliated with the Islamic State group, attacked Lebanese soldiers in the old markets.
Twelve militants are thought to have been killed, including a commander. Local sources also told the Lebanese daily that Nusra Front fighters had rejected calls by the IS militants to join the fight.
The ongoing clashes are the first time since the civil war in neighbouring Syria erupted in 2011 that violence in Tripoli had spread to the market, which is listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site and once drew many foreign tourists.
An AFP correspondent heard shelling and heavy gunfire as the army launched its assault on the gunmen's positions.
Troops attempted to evacuate families trapped inside the market, where many of the shops have been burned down in the fighting. Among the wounded civilians was a Lebanese journalist and a 17-year-old boy, according to the Daily Star.
Tripoli has seen repeated clashes between Sunni militants sympathetic to the rebels in neighbouring Syria and Alawites who back the government in Damascus.
Islamist gunmen in the city have also carried out multiple attacks against the Lebanese army, accusing it of cooperating with Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which has sent thousands of fighters to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
As these incidences have continued, there has been growing tension between locals and Syrians in the country which has taken in more than one million registered refugees since the start of the Syrian civil war.
Last month, Human Rights Watch urged Lebanon's security forces and local authorities to step up protection of Syrians after it documented increasing numbers of violent attacks.
More recently, Lebanese officials have said they have all but closed the country's borders to refugees displaced by fighting.
"We informed (the UN refugee agency) UNHCR that we are no longer able to receive displaced people," Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas told Lebanon's Al-Akhbar newspaper last week.
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