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In Lebanon, a worrying sectarian spillover from Syria

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That concern was echoed Sunday by Akmaluddin Ihsan Oglu, the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, who warned that Lebanon could slip into civil war once again if the clases continue. "We want all sides in Lebanon to seek their country's higher interest, which is peaceful coexistence between its people," he said.

Tripoli's hilltop district of Jabal Mohsen is where the first embers of a spreading fire could land.

The neighborhood looms over Bab Tebbaneh, is home to most of Lebanon's tiny Alawite community. The Alawites of Jabal Mohsen have been feuding with the Sunnis of Bab Tebbaneh and other Sunni quarters surrounding the hill since the mid 1970s, which has earned it the dubious distinction of being Lebanon's most volatile neighborhood.

While clashes between the two communities are not uncommon, their severity has increased. Two weeks ago, 10 people were killed in several days fighting here. On Saturday, 12 people died within 24 hours during clashes which allegedly saw mortar rounds being fired for the first time.

Still, the fighting in Tripoli is usually an isolated affair, accepted by most Lebanese as a result of the unfortunate circumstance in which the communities of Bab Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen find themselves. The fighting here, even when severe, is unlikely to trigger clashes in other places where Sunnis and Shiites live in close proximity unless there is an additional catalyst. Furthermore, although outbursts of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites are likely in the months ahead, the rival political factions in Lebanon have no interest in allowing the country to slide into civil war. Memories are still fresh of the last conflict that lasted between 1975-1990 which killed over 110,000 people and left the country in ruins.

"I haven't slept since Friday," says Sheikh Masri, rubbing his eyes and running his fingers through his long straggly hair. Outside, Lebanese army armored personnel carriers clattered along Syria Street, the frontline between Bab Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen. "They fired eight RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] at me while I was manning my position," says the sheikh who always participates in the clashes wearing a black combat vest, his black turban and armed with a veteran French sniper rifle.

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