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Syrian spillover: Beirut sees worst clashes in four years

The killing of a Sunni cleric at a Lebanese Army checkpoint yesterday ignited widespread protests among aggrieved Sunnis. (+video)

Is Syrian conflict spilling into Lebanon?
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An overnight gun battle between rival factions in Beirut marks the worst bout of political violence in four years as the Syrian uprising increasingly spills over into neighboring Lebanon, exacerbating sectarian tensions.

The fighting, which left three dead, capped a day of escalating friction. The fatal shooting of a Sunni cleric by Lebanese soldiers yesterday tapped into a deep sense of frustration and anger felt by many Sunnis here toward the Syrian regime's brutal crackdown on the mainly Sunni opposition. Though Lebanon's government is headed by a Sunni, it is backed by Damascus and some believe it is cooperating with the Syrian crackdown.

“The reasons the Sunnis are so angry is because we used to have the power but we have had it taken away from us. Yes, we have a Sunni as prime minister but he is not with us and he takes orders like a dog,” said an elderly man seated on a sidewalk stool in Tarik al-Jdeide, a Sunni neighborhood of Beirut.

A few blocks away, policemen, soldiers, and a crowd of onlookers gathered around the bullet-scarred and fire-blackened entrance of a seven-story building, where rival Sunni factions had clashed. A small group headed by Shaker Berjawi, allied with the Shiite Hezbollah organization, was besieged by supporters of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Future Movement, the leading Sunni political organization in Lebanon. Three were killed and 10 wounded before the Army moved in and rescued Mr. Berjawi and his followers.


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