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Lebanon grenade attack injures four in Tripoli

Lebanese army launches security search for wanted suspects as conflict in Syria continues to fuel sectarian tension in Lebanon
Smoke after clashes between Sunni and Shiite gunmen in Tripoli, Lebanon on 14 March (AFP)

A grenade thrown into a cafe hurt four people on Wednesday in Lebanon's often-restive northern city of Tripoli, security officials said.

The motive for the attack was not immediately clear, but there were suspicions the cafe was targeted for opening its doors during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

"Four people, including two Syrian nationals, were injured when unknown assailants threw a grenade into a cafe in the Bab el-Tebbaneh district" in Tripoli, a security official told AFP.

The assailants approached the cafe on a motorbike and tossed the device in before escaping.

The official pointed out that "the cafe sells coffee during the day in Ramadan, when most residents are fasting," without stating definitely whether that was why the establishment was targeted.

Bab el-Tebbaneh is a Sunni Muslim district in Tripoli that has frequently been involved in violence with the residents of neighbouring Jabal Mohsen district, a Shiite Alawite stronghold.

The city as a whole has been affected by the growing presence of religious extremists, especially after the outbreak of conflict in neighbouring Syria, with Bab el-Tebbaneh particularly affected.

Wednesday's attack comes after cafes and restaurants were warned against opening during daylight fasting hours in Ramadan in text messages and on social media in recent days.

One such message names establishments staying open, and says "these pigs are selling food and drink during the day and in view of everyone."

It advises people "to deal with them in an appropriate manner," without specifying further.

Beirut army raid

As Lebanese officials try to fight violence that has gripped for several months, the Lebanese Army raided several buildings in Beirut’s neighbourhoods Wednesday in search of wanted suspects, part of a larger security plan to uncover terror cells.

Soldiers arrested a wanted suspect, a security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Star.

Army general Jean Kahwagi said the raids were part of the pre-emptive security plan to crack down on terror cells, reassuring the Lebanese that the security situation remained "under control."

Authorities have launched a crackdown on militants suspected of coming into the country from Syria with the aim of carrying out terrorist attacks.

Last week, a suicide bomber blew himself up during a security raid at a Beirut hotel to evade arrest. A militant group called Ahrar Sunna Baalabek, which announced its allegiance to the the Islamic State on Monday, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Political stalemate

The ongoing violence did not however prompt Lebanese parliamentarians to end a political deadlock throttling the country for several months.

Lebanese MPs on Wednesday failed – for the eighth time in a row – to choose a new president to succeed Michel Suleiman, due to a boycott that prevented the assembly from reaching a required two-thirds quorum.

The Lebanese presidency has been vacant since Suleiman's six-year term expired in May.

The assembly has so far been unable to complete the process of choosing a new president, with deputies representing the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance consistently boycotting the parliamentary vote.

The impasse comes as the three-year conflict in next-door Syria continues to fuel sectarian tension inside Lebanon, with Shia Hezbollah's ongoing military support for the Syrian regime drawing condemnation from local Sunni groups.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri set July 23 for the next voting session.

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