Thousands flee during truce in restive north Lebanon

Thousands of civilians fled their homes in a battered district of northern Lebanon's Tripoli, taking advantage of an informal truce in fighting between the army and Islamist militants.

AFP| Last Updated: Oct 27, 2014, 03:51 AM IST

Tripoli: Thousands of civilians fled their homes in a battered district of northern Lebanon's Tripoli, taking advantage of an informal truce in fighting between the army and Islamist militants.
An AFP journalist in Tripoli yesterday reported the lull in fighting after three days of heavy clashes in Tripoli, the country's second biggest city, even as the army vowed to crush the militants.
But Syria's Al-Qaeda branch renewed a threat that it will execute one of 27 Lebanese soldiers it has held hostage since August unless the military halts its operations in Tripoli.
The coastal city has seen repeated clashes between Sunni militants sympathetic to rebel fighters in neighbouring Syria and Alawites loyal to the Damascus regime.
The Sunnis have recently focussed their attacks on the army over its alleged support for Damascus ally Hezbollah.
The latest clashes erupted on Friday at the city's historic market, which is a major tourist attraction.
Yesterday army mortar fire pounded the impoverished, outlying neighbourhood of Islamist bastion Bab al-Tebbaneh, where the gunmen were pushed back and cornered.
Five civilians have been killed in three days, among them a child and two adults yesterday, said a security official.
After pleas from residents and mediation by clerics, the army allowed thousands of civilians who had been caught in the crossfire for hours to flee Bab al-Tebbaneh.
The AFP journalist on the spot described chaotic scenes as people of all ages left their ravaged neighbourhood.
Many of the women walked out in their pyjamas, crying as they and the men were searched by army and intelligence troops.
Men carried out children and elderly people too weak to walk.
Five wounded civilians and dozens of people suffering from illness were evacuated in Red Cross ambulances.
Many went to stay with relatives. Others were put up in schools, which the authorities said would be closed tomorrow, along with universities, because of the violence.
It is unclear how long the informal humanitarian truce will last, and the army has said it has no intention on letting up on the fight.
"We are going through with this operation to the end," a military source said.
Bab al-Tebbaneh is home to some 100,000 people, while the parts of the neighbourhood where the fighting is worst is usually inhabited by some 15,000.
The AFP journalist said that even in areas far from the fighting, the streets were empty, with people too fearful to leave their homes.