A soldier in the Lebanese Army was killed and several others wounded in clashes Tuesday in the northern city of Tripoli.
“When Army forces were pursuing wanted men to arrest them, they came under fire and were targeted by hand grenades, which injured a number of military personnel. One was critically injured,” a statement from the Army said. “Army forces are continuing their raids to arrest [the fugitives].”
The Defense Ministry later confirmed a soldier, Ali Mustafa, had succumbed to his wounds. Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf posted a tribute to Twitter, saying, “Our hearts tear up again. ... Army Martyr Ali Mustafa, may God have mercy on you.”
While a security source and some local media outlets reported three soldiers sustained minor injuries from the shootout, another outlet, Al-Jadeed, said seven were wounded and one was in critical condition.
According to the state-run National News Agency, suspect Jihad Baltaji and the other armed fugitives hid near Labor Minister Mohammad Kabbara’s office after the clashes. A security source identified the suspects as J.B. – presumably Baltaji, M.K., Kh.H., Sh.Z., and A.J.N.
Kabbara later denied reports the fugitives were inside his office, in a video that circulated on Facebook.
“There’s someone who had a clash with one of the security units and he came and hid at the entrance of the building. ... There are no wanted people inside the office [itself], this is not true,” he said.
Kabbara also confirmed reports his son Karim played a role in the handover of one of the fugitives, but made no mention of other reports that said he had been called on by a “high-ranking” Army officer to personally negotiate the release of the remaining wanted men.
In a follow-up statement, the Army said it arrested suspect Ibrahim Kokolaki for his involvement in the clashes, noting he had “multiple warrants” out for his arrest. Investigations were initiated under the court’s supervision, the Army added.
Al-Jadeed meanwhile reported Baltaji was the main actor in the shootout and he is wanted for his alleged involvement in previous armed clashes in Tripoli. The city has witnessed fighting between residents of the Alawite-dominate Jabal Mohsen neighborhood and Sunni-majority Bab al-Tabbaneh as a result of spillover from the Syrian crisis. However, the situation in the city has been relatively calm since a security plan there was implemented in 2014.
Tripoli MP Najib Mikati meanwhile said on Twitter following the events: “What happened in Tripoli during the holy month [of Ramadan] is unacceptable by all standards and values.”
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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