Two killed in south Lebanon clashes linked to Syrian conflict

Photo: Two killed in south Lebanon clashes linked to Syrian conflict / Arabic region

Two died Tuesday in Lebanon when clashes erupted between supporters and opponents of the government in Syria, Lebanese police said, dpa reported.

Fighting broke out after loyalists to Sunni Islamist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir stormed apartments buildings belonging to the Shiite militia Hezbollah group in the area of Abra, east of the port city of Sidon.

The incident led Hezbollah followers to storm the villa of a follower of al-Assir, former Lebanese singer Fadl Shaker.

Lebanese media outlets said rocket-propelled grenades were used in the clashes.

Al-Assir is a key backer of the Syrian opposition and is an outspoken critic of Hezbollah and al-Assad. Hezbollah has publicly backed the embattled government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which has been fighting off a predominantly Sunni-led insurgency for more than two years. Fighting has routinely spilled into Lebanon.

Residents in the city of Sidon, 40 kilometres south of Beirut, told dpa masked gunmen and snipers had deployed in great numbers on the rooftops of buildings in Abra. Lebanese troops were sent to the region and were firing shots at the gunmen in an attempt to contain the violence.

A military source said that all roads leading to Sidon have been closed and that the army is trying to contain the clashes.

The clashes took place as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton reiterated the EU'S commitment to a political solution to the conflict in Syria and the need to bring an end to the violence.

"The EU fully supports ongoing efforts towards an international peace conference, based on the principles included in the Geneva communique of 30 June 2012," Ashton said after meeting with Lebanese officials in Beirut.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, who was also in Lebanon, sounded the alarm about the massive support needed for Syrian refugees and for the countries and communities hosting them.

"The long-feared spillover of the Syrian crisis into neighbouring countries is becoming a harsh reality that must be addressed to prevent the flames of war from spreading across the Middle East," the UN official said as he marked World Refugee Day.

Presenting the largest ever humanitarian funding plan for Lebanon, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Guterres appealed to donor countries for 1.7 billion dollars that will be required for Lebanon to help meet the demands of the influx of Syrian refugees into the country.

The United Nations Higher Council for Refugees said Sunday that the number of Syrians who fled their wartorn country to Lebanon has exceeded 530,000.

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