BEIRUT – Lebanese soldiers in armored vehicles fanned out across the country on Monday to break down civilian roadblocks and chase gunmen off the streets as tempers flared over the killing of a top intelligence official who was a powerful opponent of Syrian involvement in Lebanon.
Sectarian clashes killed at least six people. A seventh person was killed after soldiers returned fire following an attack on their patrol.
The killing of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan in a Beirut car bomb on Friday sparked days of tensions, accusations and violence in Lebanon between supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his opponents. Al-Hassan was solidly in the latter group, and his supporters, many of them Sunni Muslims, blamed Damascus for the killing.
Many also called for the resignation of the Hezbollah-dominated government, saying it is too cozy with the Syrian regime.
In Washington, the State Department said it was worried about the violence in Lebanon and that the U.S. was sending an FBI team to help investigate the bombing.
“We’ve been clear for some time about the possible spillover effect from the conflict in Syria,” spokesman Mark Toner said Monday.
The army’s security operation Monday sought to sweep from the streets gunmen who many here fear could end up dragging the country into the kind of sectarian clashes that have plagued Lebanon for decades.
“The nation is passing through a crucial and critical period and tension has risen in some areas to unprecedented levels,” the army said in a statement.
Cracks of gunfire rang out in Beirut as soldiers took up positions on major thoroughfares and dismantled roadblocks of burning tires erected by angry youth. The state news agency reported sporadic gunfire in parts of Beirut and around the northern city of Tripoli.
Tripoli saw clashes between two neighborhoods that support opposite sides in Syria’s conflict and have a decades-long history of violence. Five people were killed in the fighting between the Sunni neighborhood of Bab Tabbaneh, which supports Syria’s rebels, and the adjacent Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, which supports Assad.
Security officials said one man was killed in the Wadi Zayneh area south of Beirut. The state news agency said a Palestinian man was killed in Beirut’s Qusqus neighborhood when army troops returned fire on their patrol. More than two dozen people were wounded nationwide.