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Fighting rages in north Lebanon for second day

Heavy fighting between pro- and anti-government supporters in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli raged for a second day Monday and officials said four more people died overnight.
Image: Fighting in Tripoli
A Sunni pro-government gunman takes his position under portraits of slain former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, left, and Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, with Arabic words reading: "May God protect you," in the Bab al-Tabaneh district, in Tripoli, Lebanon, Monday.Hussein Malla / AP
/ Source: Reuters

Heavy fighting between pro- and anti-government supporters in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli raged for a second day Monday and officials said four more people died overnight.

By afternoon, Lebanese troops and policemen began deploying in the tense areas. Fighting eased by dawn although residents said sporadic explosions persisted.

The deaths brought to eight the number of those killed since violence broke out Sunday in this city, 50 miles north of the capital.

Forty-two people have been wounded in the fighting. Among the injured were a soldier and a civilian hit by sniper fire, the state-run National News Agency reported.

The latest clashes began overnight when Sunni Muslim government supporters from the Bab el-Tabaneh district and Alawite opposition supporters in neighboring Jabal Mohsen neighborhood exchanged machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades, officials said.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Difficulties in forming unity government
The violence comes as Prime Minister Fuad Saniora is facing difficulties forming a national unity Cabinet. The cabinet is part of an Arab-brokered deal, which followed a political stalemate that pushed Lebanon to the verge of a new civil war.

It was not immediately possible to determine whether the Tripoli violence was an isolated event or residue from last month's clashes that preceded the deal.

That violence killed 81 and wounded over 200 people, and was Lebanon's worst since the 1975-90 conflict. With the May fighting, the Tripoli deaths and those killed in the eastern Bekaa valley last week, the toll stands at 92 dead and more than 250 people wounded.

The army command in northern Lebanon got rival groups in Tripoli to agree to have military and police deploy in tense areas Monday, the National News Agency said. The report said any gunmen would be subjected to fire if they were seen in the streets after 4 p.m.

The grand mufti of north Lebanon, Sheik Malek al-Shaar, who has been mediating since Sunday to end the violence, told the private Al-Jadeed television that both sides approved the deployment.

But shortly before the army began deploying, fighting resumed between the factions. About 4:30 p.m., dozens of soldiers and policemen in jeeps and armored personnel carriers fanned out close to the scene of the fighting, which then subsided.

The same area had witnessed heavy fighting last month, when pro-government gunmen and militias loyal to the Hezbollah-led opposition clashed in different parts of the country.

The Lebanese deal, signed May 21 in Doha, Qatar, calls for the forming of a 30-member Cabinet in which Hezbollah and its allies have veto power over government decisions.

Former army chief, Michel Suleiman, was elected by parliament as a consensus president, and sworn in four days after the agreement.

Violence further undermining government
In Vienna, Saniora condemned the violence in Tripoli, saying it was undermining efforts to stabilize Lebanon. He said during a news conference Monday that his government is making every effort to end the conflicts.

Saniora spoke at a one-day international donors' conference in Austria where delegates pledged $122 million to rebuild a war-ravaged Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Tripoli.

The camp was devastated last year by three months of heavy fighting between the Lebanese army and al-Qaida-inspired militants of the Fatah Islam group, which was holed up inside.

Some 5,449 Palestinian families have been waiting a year for the camp to be reconstructed, according to a U.N. Palestinian relief agency.

Matthias Burchard, a representative with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said the pledges should be seen as a show of solidarity, both with the thousands of displaced refugees and the Lebanese government.

He said the money is meant for both the camp and the surrounding areas.

Up to 400,000 refugees live in Lebanon's crowded camps, most of them Palestinians whose families were forced from their homes nearly 60 years ago with the creation of Israel.