* Ceasefire agreed in Tripoli
* Four killed in overnight fighting
* Order restored in Beirut, political crisis seethes
By Oliver Holmes
TRIPOLI, Lebanon, Oct 23 The Lebanese army has
arranged a ceasefire on Tuesday in the northern city of Tripoli
after two nights of fighting between Sunni and Alawite gunmen
loyal to different sides in the war in neighbouring Syria, a
military source said.
At least 10 people have been killed and 65 wounded in
clashes in Tripoli despite a heavy deployment of troops backed
by tanks and armoured personnel carriers.
In the capital Beirut, life was getting back to normal after
soldiers swept though the city on Monday to dismantle barricades
and clear the streets of gunmen who had clashed on Sunday night.
The violence flared after Friday's assassination in central
Beirut of senior Lebanese security official, Wissam al-Hassan,
who had worked to counter Syrian influence in Lebanon.
The car bombing and ensuing clashes brought the civil war in
Syria into the heart of Lebanon and triggered a political
crisis, with the opposition demanding the resignation of the
mostly pro-Damascus cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
The fighting in Tripoli took place between the neighbouring
areas of Bab al-Tabbaneh, a Sunni Muslim stronghold, and Jebel
Mohsen, an Alawite district. Residents said combatants had
traded machinegun-fire and rocket-propelled grenades after
nightfall and snipers were active during the day.
A military source told Reuters that after talks with the
army on Tuesday both sides had agreed to a halt in the
hostilities. However, as evening fell residents reported
hearing occasional gunfire.
The army said in a statement it had arrested 100 people
since Sunday, including 34 Syrians and 4 Palestinians, in a
security operation aimed at getting guns off the streets.
It said soldiers had raided properties in Beirut and Tripoli
where gunmen were sheltering and seized weapons. Fifteen members
of the security forces had been wounded by gunfire.
On Tuesday morning, soldiers backed by tanks and armoured
vehicles were stationed in the streets of Tripoli, which has
suffered several previous bouts of fighting since the Syrian
conflict started 19 months ago.
But at the front line, they merely looked on as teen-aged
fighters carrying assault rifles ran up and down the streets.
Shops close to the combat zone were shuttered and the area
blocked off with what people called "Bullet Checkpoints" -
streets where they feared to go for fear of snipers.
Tripoli's Sunni Muslims support the Syrian rebels fighting
to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, who are mostly from
Syria's Sunni majority.
Assad is a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of
Shi'ite Islam. He can count on the support of Hezbollah, a
powerful Shi'ite Islamist armed group that is part of the Mikati
government, as well as other Shi'ites and Alawites in Lebanon's
complex sectarian and political mix.
Lebanon is still haunted by its 1975-1990 civil war, which
made Beirut a byword for carnage and wrecked much of the city.
Many Lebanese fear Syria's war will drag their country back to
those days, destroying their efforts to rebuild it as a centre
of trade, finance and tourism with a semblance of democracy.
Opposition politicians have accused Syria of being behind
Friday's killing of Brigadier General Hassan, an opponent of the
A Sunni Muslim, Hassan helped to uncover a bomb plot that
led to the arrest and indictment in August of a pro-Assad former
Lebanese minister. He also led an investigation that implicated
Syria and Hezbollah in the 2005 assassination of Rafik
al-Hariri, a former prime minister of Lebanon.
Mikati, who is also a Sunni Muslim, had personal ties to the
Assad family before he became prime minister in January last
year. His cabinet includes Hezbollah as well as Christian and
other Shi'ite politicians close to Damascus.
He offered to resign at the weekend to make way for a
government of national unity but President Michel Suleiman
persuaded him to stay in office to allow time for talks on a way
out of the political crisis.
If he were to stand down before an alternative was worked
out, it would mean the collapse of the political compromise that
has kept the peace in Lebanon.
Free Patriotic Movement parliamentarian Michel Aoun, a
Christian politician and ally of the well-armed Hezbollah, said
Lebanon could not live with such a power vacuum.
"What happened (Hassan's assassination) constitutes a
security setback but if there was a vacuum, maybe the country
would be in chaos," he told the Beirut Daily Star newspaper.
Visiting European Union foreign policy chief Catherine
Ashton met Lebanese political leaders in Beirut on Tuesday and
stressed the importance of political and social reforms. She
also warned of the dangers of a weak state.
"At such times, the importance of robust state institutions
that continue to provide security and services cannot be
overstated," she told reporters before leaving.
POSTERS ON WALLS
In Tripoli, Mikati's hometown, resentment was growing among
some residents against him and his connection with the
Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which is led by Sayyed Hassan
A protest camp has been set up outside his house.
One protester, Azam Karali, a 47-year-old Sunni jewellery
shop owner, said he would stay there until Mikati resigns.
"It was Tripoli that brought him to power but he has now
gone to March 8," he said, referring to a group of political
parties including Hezbollah who are close to Syria.
"We want our politics to be Lebanese. We don't want Syrian
interference, or even American, Iranian, Saudi, whatever."
Posters of the assassinated intelligence chief were
plastered on walls all over the city.
"Assad, Nasrallah and Iran made that bomb and we have now
lost our protector," said Abu Marwan, a car salesman who had
been at the protest camp since Saturday.
But a man called Bassam, an architect, said he supported
Mikati and he believed 70 percent of the city did so too.
"This is Mikati's city. He helps us," he said, speaking in a
coffee shop. "Tell me, where is the evidence that this bomb was