Lebanese soldier killed in clashes with Sunni militants

TRIPOLI, Lebanon Thu Dec 5, 2013 4:38pm EST

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TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) - A Lebanese soldier was killed on Thursday evening during clashes with Sunni Muslim fighters in the coastal city of Tripoli after the army tried to storm a Sunni area, a security source said.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a further seven soldiers were wounded as well as five militants in battles in the majority Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh district. He said 25 civilian residents were also wounded in the clashes.

The Syrian civil war has deepened divisions between Tripoli's Sunni Muslims, who back the Syrian rebels, and the Mediterranean city's minority Alawites, who support Syria's Alawite President Bashar al-Assad. Around 100 people have been killed this year in clashes.

Sunni militants accuse the army of taking orders from Damascus and working against them with the Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah militia group.

They also accuse the army of protecting Alawite political leaders from the Jebel Mohsen area of Tripoli who they say are linked to twin bombings at Sunni mosques in August that killed 42 people.

The army regularly intervenes to stop the violence and on Monday caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati gave the armed forces full responsibility for security in Tripoli for six months after heavy fighting over the weekend.

As troops battled militants in the rain on Thursday, Sunni sheikhs in Tripoli called for a "day of rage" on Friday to protest against the army advance in Bab al-Tabbaneh.

A reporter in Tripoli said the militants tried to advance towards the Qubba army barracks in Tripoli but were pushed back.

(Reporting by Nazih Saddiq; Writing by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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