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02.06.2012, 18:45 BBC News.co.uk

'Nine killed' in Syria-linked unrest in Lebanon's Tripoli

'Nine killed' in Syria-linked unrest in Lebanon's Tripoli

At least nine people have been killed and more than 20 hurt in the Lebanese port of Tripoli, in clashes linked to unrest across the border in Syria.

Supporters and opponents of the uprising against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad clashed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

Tensions in the northern port city have mounted since Syria's uprising began.

Recent months have seen increased clashes between armed Alawite groups and Sunni fighters in the city.

Mr Assad is Alawite, while the uprising against him is Sunni-led.

In Syria itself, opposition activists reported yet more violence. Two civilians were killed - one during an army raid in the capital, Damascus, and another by gunfire in the city of Homs.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said rebels had killed six soldiers in the southern province of Deraa and at least eight others in clashes on the outskirts of Damascus.

'Targeted'

Residents of Tripoli described smoke billowing from buildings and the army was deployed onto the streets of affected areas to quell the violence.

"We are being targeted because we support the Syrian people," one Sunni gunman told Associated Press Television. "We are with you [Syrian people] and will not abandon you," he added.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati visited Tripoli and held talks with ministers and officials.

"The Lebanese army and internal security forces need to take all measures to stop the clashes in the city of Tripoli, without discrimination," a statement from his office said.

Fighting was concentrated in Tripoli's Bab al-Tebbaneh district, a mostly Sunni Muslim community, and the pro-Damascus Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighbourhood.

Although there have been on-off clashes between gunmen in neighbouring Tripoli districts, Saturday's death toll is believed to be the highest in a single day.

On 14 May five people were killed in similar clashes after a Sunni cleric, Shadi al-Moulawi, was arrested on terrorism charges. His supporters say he was held because he helped Syrian refugees.

In February, two died when supporters and opponents of Mr Assad clashed.

Community leaders in Lebanon have repeatedly warned of the possibility that the violence in Syria would spill over the border. Lebanon is already hosting thousands of Syrian refugees.

Last month, 11 Lebanese Shia Muslim pilgrims were abducted, reportedly by a Sunni rebel splinter group, in Syria.

On Friday, the leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, called for their release.

Meanwhile, UN peace envoy Kofi Annan - in Doha for a meeting with Arab League members - warned that Syria was slipping closer to all-out war and said the conflict there was developing an alarming sectarian dimension.

"The spectre of all-out civil war, with a worrying sectarian dimension, grows by the day," Mr Annan said.

He added that the crisis was now at "tipping point", following the massacre at Houla, in which 108 people were killed, many of them women and children.

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