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Syrian spillover: Beirut sees worst clashes in four years

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“There were many men with weapons and they came into our building and broke into our apartments so they could fire at Berjawi’s men. It was very frightening,” said a young female schoolteacher who lived opposite Berjawi's offices. Those interviewed in the area declined to give their names, underlining the sense of nervousness that has gripped the area.

Rising instability along Syria-Lebanon border

Even before yesterday's clashes, north Lebanon has seen a breakdown of stability as a result of the upheaval in Syria seeping across the border. For the past week, there have been intermittent gun battles that left 10 dead and dozens wounded in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, between Sunnis living in the Bab Tebbaneh quarter and a small community of Alawites in the adjacent Jabal Mohsen district. The Alawite sect is an obscure offshoot of the Shiite faith whose adherents form the backbone of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Furthermore, in recent weeks, Lebanon’s northern border with Syria has witnessed a spate of shootings, kidnappings of Lebanese and Syrians and brief military incursions allegedly by Syrian troops. On the night of May 19, one Syrian was killed and two others wounded as they tried to cross the border from Lebanon to return to their homes in Syria.

Most Sunnis in north Lebanon back the predominantly Sunni opposition in Syria, while Hezbollah and most of Lebanon’s Shiite community side with the Assad regime. Some Sunnis are actively assisting the Syrian opposition. One Future Movement activist claimed that as many as 300 Sunnis from the Bekaa Valley in east Lebanon are directly helping the opposition by providing logistical support or even serving as armed combatants.

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